Lindsey McCullough is a paraplegic who works in a museum, cleaning and arranging priceless ancient artifacts. She comes across a copper jar from a “Treasures of Arabia” exhibit, which emits a jinni when she polishes it. At first she is skeptical, but he soon convinces her of his powers by vaporizing her telephone.
Kasim offers Lindsey three wishes, and is astonished when she begins to think about using her wishes for the betterment of others. He talks her out of world peace (wishes, as we all know, can have unexpected outcomes: Kasim tells us that world peace would mean world domination by a tyrant). Instead, he tricks her into wishing for the use of her legs. Annoyed that she was tricked into a selfish wish, Lindsey wishes for Kasim’s freedom. The wish has an unintended outcome.
Both Kasim and Lindsey are transported back in time to the fictitious Arabian kingdom Zharinda, where an evil sultan has been dominating the populace and deflowering all the maidens (and I mean all of them). See, the only way for Kasim to be free is to defeat the evil Ifrit that held Zharinda in its power 1500 years ago. There’s a helpful prophecy that gives instructions on how to defeat the Ifrit: a virgin needs to dig up some clay (that’s Lindsay); then the sultan’s wife needs to donate some hair (that’s Kasim’s childhood sweetheart, Marjana); and then the clay will be used to make a jar to imprison the Ifrit by Kasim and his true love (and who will that be, I wonder?). The answer seems pretty obvious to us, but Kasim remains stubbornly in love with Marjana for quite a while, in spite of her obvious evil-ex-girlfriend characteristics.
Obviously this book is not going to be the place to turn for a thoughtful and accurate portrayal of medieval Arabia. Cozzens gleefully digs up every Arabian Nights plot device she can think of, from Kasim’s silk harem pants to the horrible rock of Rocs, where prisoners are taken to be devoured by enormous birds. There’s even a harem-fantasy scene, à la Bertrice Small, which fortunately does not reach its logical conclusion. I found this book to be completely loony but quite entertaining, and Cozzens served up a surprise or two. I loved the evil sultan – can you imagine how much work it would be to deflower every virgin in an entire kingdom?
The silliness of this book is what makes it work. If Cozzens had tried for a serious, realistic tone, the romance between Lindsay and Kasim would have driven me crazy. For one thing, he’s spends a lot of time mooning over Marjana. Okay, she ensorcelled him, but still it’s annoying – especially since he’s actually in love with Lindsay, and so bounces back and forth between the two women in a most provoking way. Lindsay and Kasim form a mutual-insecurity society. She knows he can’t love her because he’s a gorgeous stud and she’s a little nobody, and crippled to boot (even though she isn’t crippled any more). He’s convinced that she couldn’t possibly love him because she’s from a wondrous future and he’s a backwards barbarian.
Lindsay is a pretty good heroine: she seems to be by far the most intelligent character in the novel, and her insecurities seem realistic and based on a believable background. Kasim is really a dope. Even when he finally figures out that Marjana is not a nice girl (when her attendant slaves morph into large animals and attack him), he still lies to Lindsay when the truth would do just as well. He curses himself a lot: “Oh, what a fool I am!” I usually agree with him.
Anyway, this all comes together in a grand, sloppy, satisfying finale. I’m happy to say that Cozzens comes up with a really good solution to the perennial “how to end a time-travel romance” problem – and she does it in a way that I don’t think I’ve never read before, either.
Arabian Knight by Tracy Cozzens is about as subtle as a pie in the face, and the hero gets a 10 on the TSTL meter, but it’s cheerful and well-written. If you’re in the mood for a giggle (and don’t want to think too hard), this should be a fun one to pick up.