Genre: YA fantasy
Publisher: Doubleday Childrens (14 Oct 2010)
Remember the naughty djinn Bartimaeus? He is back. This book is a prequel to the bestselling BARTIMAEUS TRILOGY, reviewed by me not so long ago.
In the novel we are transported in time to the court of the king Solomon in 950 BC Jerusalem. The said king rules because he owns a very powerful artifact – a golden ring, hiding a strong entity from the Other Place. No one has been as strong as him so far. He is surrounded by seventeen of the most powerful magicians from different countries – each and every one of them would like to bask in the glory of the famous king and also to cut a piece of this appetizing cake for him/herself. Magicians are, as usual, a very greedy, very selfish and very ambitious lot.
Bartimaeus is of course in trouble: not only had he eaten his previous master, which was considered a huge breach of good manners on the court, but he also managed to antagonize the new one, Khaba the Cruel, an Egyptian priest who took Bartimaeus as a servant soon afterwardsas a form of punishment. The insolent but witty djinn is now employed as a builder of the famous Jerusalem temple and then, because he offends the king even further portraying one of his many wives as a hippo in a skirt, he is sent with other spirits to chase desert robbers. During that mission he saves the life of Asmira, a beautiful but deadly hereditary guard of the queen of Sheba. Asmira was sent by her queen to do the unthinkable – to kill king Solomon and steal the source of his power. It is a suicidal plan indeed – several marids had planned and failed to do so. She has to risk her life only because Solomon dared to propose to the queen for the fourth time in a row and then he asked for a very high tribute to be paid in frankincense. Is it really a good reason to die for? Bartimaeus thinks he should have eaten the girl and made her choices for her. Asmira will have to rethink her personal priorities and change her mind several times and Bartimaeus will help her throwing witty and sometimes philosophical remarks as he tries to save her from the worst – losing her personality.
What I liked:
As usual the book was written in a vibrant, fast-paced way; I wasn’t bored one single minute. Perhaps the plot was a bit predictable, especially for those who had read the trilogy before, but still each individual scene was a hoot. Bartimaeus’s pranks and attempts to escape his magician controllers were very funny, especially those snarky footnotes scattered in-between. The sense of humour is always a very welcome feature, no matter what genre, and Mr. Stroud knows how to make you smile.
I also liked Asmira – she reminded me a little of Kitty from the BARTIMAEUS TRILOGY – she was portrayed as one strong-willed, intelligent, passionate girl with sad experiences, a thoughtless superior and a hopeless mission. Stroud uses her to ask questions about the right choices in your own life, slavery and control. Her personal journey is well depicted and her changes are very subtle and real. What a pity not every suicidal assassin is paired with an intelligent and witty djinni.
What I didn’t like:
Although The Ring of Solomon is head and shoulders above the other young adult fiction I’ve read recently, I found it shallower than the original trilogy. Due to its length – it is just a single volume instead of three – The Ring of Solomon simply feels like a watered down version of the previous series. I would like to read more about Solomon and his famous verdicts. I would like to know more about the main baddie, Khaba and his past. In short, I would like more historical background. You can’t have it all, though…
The final verdict:
This novel can be enjoyed as a stand alone read or as an addition to the trilogy, mentioned before. I highly recommend it to those with children as something you can read together and discuss, or just as an exhilarating light read which will make these long black evenings pass by in a wink.