Jonathan Stroud – The Ring of Solomon
3. The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud (2010)
Bartimaeus Trilogy, prequel
Read By: Simon Jones
Length: 12h 38m (416 pages)
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fantasy
Started: 14 December 2010
Finished: 07 January 2010
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed the rest of the Bartimaeus Trilogy (pre-blog), so I was excited to hear that Stroud had come out with a new one.
One ring to rule them
all… and by “them” I mean the
Summary: In the world of the Bartimaeus books, magic is done by sorcerers – but what the sorcerers actually do is call up and bind powerful spirits, and force them to do their bidding. The spirits, of course, resent this enslavement, and any sorcerer who makes the smallest mistake in their spells is immediately set upon and devoured. Bartimaeus is a djinn – powerful enough that only skilled magicians can control him, but not as powerful as an afrit or marid – and he’s also clever, resourceful, terribly sarcastic, and thoroughly full of himself.
As the book opens, Bartimaeus is enslaved to one of the magicians of King Solomon’s court. Solomon wields great power and influence, due to his magical ring – a ring that can summon spirits of unspeakable power with the merest touch. Bartimaeus chafes under his enslavement, and is punished for his habitual cheek by being sent to rid the desert of bandits. Also chafing under Solomon’s rule is the Queen of Sheba, who responds to one of his demands for tribute by sending one of her guards, Asmira, to assassinate the king and steal the ring. This task is thoroughly impossible for any single person (or spirit), but when Asmira encounters Bartimaeus on her way to Jerusalem, the two together just might have a chance of accomplishing their goal and freeing themselves.
Review: This book was a slow starter for me. Partly the slow start was due to the fact that Simon Jones’s voice is pitched low enough that I had a hard time hearing it over the noise of my tires, so I couldn’t listen to it while doing my holiday traveling. However, even if I’d been listening to it in other circumstances, I think I would have still had a hard time getting into it. The first half of the books alternates chapters between Bartimaeus’s and Asmira’s points of view, but their stories are completely separate. It’s obvious from very early on that their storylines are going to cross eventually, so all the time they spend mucking around on their own just felt like stalling.
However, the good news is that once they do meet, the pace picks up dramatically. Asmira’s a good foil for Bartimaeus, and I really enjoyed their interactions. One of my favorite things about Bartimaeus is that he’s got this soft spot for humans that he’s desperately trying to keep hidden underneath all of the bluster and self-aggrandizement and snarkiness (which are available in ample supply, and hilariously wonderful to read). The manifestation of this soft spot is different here than it was in the original trilogy, but it’s there nevertheless, and it gives the story a subtle depth underneath the silliness and adventure.
In the end, I wound up enjoying this story every bit as much as the original trilogy. It was fun, funny, and a good distraction that made doing my post-holiday chores much more bearable. I also love these books in audio; Jones’s rendition of Bartimaeus is just so perfectly dry and catty that it really adds something that you don’t get reading them in print. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: The Ring of Solomon is completely independent, plot-wise, from the books of the main trilogy, and could easily be picked up as a stand-alone. Recommended for YA fantasy fans who want a book with a unique setting, a unique way of doing magic, and/or a main character that is dripping (occasionally literally) with snark.
First Line: Sunset above the olive groves.
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