For better or for worse, Bartimaeus is back

Title: The Ring of Solomon

Author: Jonathan Stroud

Pub. Date: November 2010

Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children

Genre: Fantasy

Age Range: Middle Grade

Synopsis/Teaser: In the year 950 BCE, King Solomon rules Jerusalem with an absolute power afforded to him by the magical ring her wears on his left hand. This ring is the only reason he can keep his league of magicians under control– and, by extension, their spirit slaves. Not every demon is willing to submit, however; the rebellious djinni Bartimaeus has been enslaved by the sadistic magician Khaba for correction and punishment. While working on building a temple for Solomon, Bartimaeus defies direct orders and gets himself assigned to an even more onerous task: rooting bandits out of the desert. In the after math of some dastardly robbery Bartimaeus finds Asmira, a teenage member of the Queen of Sheba’s prestigious personal guard. Asmira is on a secret and dangerous mission against Solomon to save her queen and country. Working with a human, willingly or not, is out of the question for Bartimaeus, but sometimes it can’t be helped.

Review: When I was a little younger, the original three Bartimaeus books (The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, and Ptolemy’s Gate) were my absolute favorites. I remember curling up on the sofa on those gray winter days and ravenously reading about Bart, Nathaniel, and Kitty’s adventures in the alternate London. My parents would look at me rather oddly when I burst out laughing– for no apparent reason, in their mind– at Bartimaeus’s commentary. I was very disappointed when the last page of the trilogy turned. So, naturally, when I found The Ring of Solomon some years later, I was thrilled.

All of the best things about the trilogy return in The Ring of Solomon. Bartimaeus’s trademark humor was back in all its glory, making me snicker aloud once more– something I haven’t done while reading for some time. A slow smirk would spread across my face whenever I saw footnotes at the bottom of a page, knowing the Bartimaeus’s asides would not disappoint.

The alternating narrative format, which I usually like, was a little less attractive in this volume. Frankly, the guard Asmira’s parts were kind of boring. Even though it’s told in the third person, Asmira’s stiff and narrow-minded view of the world was apparent and mind-numbing. I was glad to have a young female character, but I preferred to listen to Bartimaeus’s witty, first-person storytelling.

I loved getting to finally see Bartimaeus in old Jerusalem. Throughout the three original books, Bart liked to brag about his great adventures serving under Solomon. Now the reader gets to experience the slightly less glamorous truth. I was bothered by the stereotyped female ruler depicted through the Queen of Sheba. Well, actually, I suppose everyone was slammed, so a reader must take these things with a grain of salt.

I wonder if the extended Bartimaeus series will continue. Overall, I’d like to see more books, but I’d hate it if Jonathan Stroud started sacrificing quality to expand the franchise. I don’t think he will.

Recommended for:  Middle graders and teens who like a rollicking historical fantasy and, above all, love to laugh.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 possible stars.

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