Wizard of Arabah by Tristan Parrish purports to be the first of a series of scrolls about the life of Solomon Magus, a wizard who travels the world seeking adventure and the company of beautiful women. His amorous adventures give him as much fame and take up probably as many pages in the telling as do the ones involving his quick thinking and magical skills. The word Solomon Magus uses as a euphemism for having sexual relations is “Bliss,” and he prides himself at being extremely well-versed in the many ways to give “Bliss” to his numerous partners. Solomon’s adventures run the gamut from killing the Minotaur (instead of Theseus, who gets the credit according to mythological sources) to meeting with and experiencing Bliss with Amazon warriors.
What could be better than a tale of sorcery and sex, two staples of the bestsellers of today, blended together? Nothing, one would think – it would seem the perfect formula for a successful book series. In the case of Wizard of Arabah, however, the mix is more like oil and water. Part of the reason that it seems a bit creepy is that Solomon Magus is relating the adventures to his granddaughter to transcribe onto a scroll.
Sure, the sex is not particularly graphic and uses words that come straight from the Kama Sutra, like “linga” for the male sex organ, so maybe the granddaughter doesn’t mind writing her grandfather’s sexual exploits down. Also, the social mores are likely different. Still, I would have much preferred to have read that Solomon Magus himself, or a friend or relative other than a daughter or granddaughter of his, had written the tales on the scroll.
Sword and sorcery or fantasy stories can blend erotic elements with the plotline very well in some cases - say American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Flesh by Philip Jose Farmer, or even Little Myth Marker by Robert Asprin. However, using exotic words for sexual parts and the protagonist having sexual relations with almost all of the women characters in the book takes titillation out of the equation. Wizard of Arabah would perhaps have been more successful if it had been either a purely sword and sorcery sort of book or, conversely, much more sexually graphic - and if it hadn’t been Solomon’s granddaughter who was asked to write the exploits.
Wizard of Arabah starts off promisingly, with the ship Sea Maiden carrying Solomon the Strange (or Seeker), as he was known as when he was younger, under attack by pirates. The pirates are only after money and jewels, but when a merchant aboard the ship freaks out, pulls a dagger from his robes, and attacks the pirate captain, this triggers an all-out massacre, beginning with the death of the merchant: “The captain exploded with pain and rage. His sword arced through the air. The sharp steel bit into the merchant and cleaved him cleanly from shoulder to groin in one slice.”
Solomon is only saved by the quick action of his mother (with whom he later is reunited) when she “shoved me in amongst the ropes and tackles, and threw the tarp over me.” He is discovered there by the captain’s daughter, Jasmin, who looks to be about his own age. Instead of ratting on him or killing him, she tells him “Farewell, Solomon the Strange. Perhaps we shall meet again,” and she flips the tarp back over him. Though it’s many years later, the two do meet
again - and have adventures together, and share “Bliss” with each other.
Wizard of Arabah has some good things to recommend it. The time Solomon spends on an island where the ship eventually lands, and his meeting with and training in the arts of sorcery and Bliss by the sorceress Narmada Magus, is pretty interesting. Though the novel is called an “historical fantasy” by the author, the part where Solomon kills the Minotaur would be improved if Theseus the Duke of Athens were mentioned, that he tried to take the credit for killing the monster, or that he was there, but Solomon really killed it - some explanation along those lines.
Also bothersome are that Parrish locates the Amazons on Crete (He calls it “Kaphtor” in the book for some reason), where the palace of Cnossus, King Minos’ residence stands, and that the Amazonians sometimes allow males to be “puppet kings.” According to Homer in the Iliad, the Amazon warriors would be better placed closer to Troy, in the area of Asia Minor. At least, they are mentioned as having invaded Phrygia, from the north, which would correspond with somewhere in Asia Minor.