on November 2, 2010
The first Bartimaeus trilogy was one of the best reading experiences of the last ten years for me. Not only did I devour Amulet of Samarkand without a break after finding it in my local library, I went out searching for the next two as soon as I had finished, and when my library didn't have Ptolemey's Gate I bought it. Read all of them straight through, got bleary-eyed, paid for it the next morning, and loved every minute.
When I learned about the Ring of Solomon, the return of Bartimaeus, I worried about whether Stroud might have lost his touch. Maybe you have too.
This book has just the same feel as the previous ones. Although the events happen about 3,000 years before the time of the luckless Nathaniel, the tone and pace and characterization are just as driving, vivid, and entrancing as before. None of the human characters carries over, of course, but Faqarl is there, as well as a few of the stunts about which Bartimaeus will later brag, and some about which he was already bragging, 3,000 years ago. The human characters continue to be three-dimensional, which means they are mixed bags: no one is entirely noble or good, but only a few are truly evil, and then only in very believable (read: power-mad) ways. Most of them are people who act out of good motives but with limited foresight, or with great wisdom but imperfect morality, or wisely and with good motives but insufficient trust in their friends. In other words, they are a little too human for comfort.
And the plot and pacing just swallowed me up and pulled me along, page after page. Stroud's writing style is just wonderful. I wish he were more prolific - but only if this meant NO lowering of his quality. Among other things, I think he's just great at writing scenes of tension between major characters. He is equally good at writing scenes in which major characters are talking, but are misunderstanding each other, or coming at their interaction from totally different points of view (which the reader grasps, but they do not). Just outstanding writing.
Upshot: Glad I ordered it from a foreign distributor, to get it early. It was worth the premium I paid. Hearty endorsement, and dare I hope there will be even more? Bartimaeus and John Dee, or Bartimaeus and Nicolas Flamel - or Bartimaeus and Bodhidarma? Please? Mr. Stroud, are you listening?
on November 4, 2010
I've been a fan of Stroud's other books for years, including his Bartimaeus Trilogy and his standalone novel Heroes of the Valley. So naturally I was a little worried that this new novel might not be as good or engaging as some of his past since it's been so long since Stroud's last release. But I have to say I wasn't disappointed in the slightest with The Ring of Solomon.
The Ring of Solomon takes place in the time of King Solomon, back from the stories of the old testament. Of course Stroud doesn't just give us a bland retelling of the stories of King Solomon instead he puts his own twist on the stories using everyone's favorite djinni, Bartimaeus, to still up trouble, make insulting yet humorous wisecracks, and cause overall general mayhem.
Personally, I found Asmira a much easier and more interesting lead human character to read than Nathaniel. But the true star in all of these books continues to be Bartimaeus. He is still the mischievous, wise cracking, character that we came to love in the previous books. Stroud does a fantastic job of reestablishing Bartimaeus's character though, so new readers of the series wont be lost by any of Bartimaeus's remarks or style.
As for the other human characters they are all 3-D and interesting. My personal favorite was King Solomon, I was genuinely surprised with some of the twists Stroud had in there for the king, and I really enjoyed them. There are some "evil" characters, but to be honest, Stroud does a fantastic job making sure his characters are complex enough that they are able to surprise even loyal fans of Stroud's other books.
As for plot twists The Ring of Solomon has plenty to entertain and keep readers on their toes. Nothing new for fans of the previous series.
But the real important aspect to take away from this is that fans of the previous Bartimaeus books will love this book. Side remarks detailing Bartimaeus`s exploits from the previous books are described in much fuller detail, characters such as Faqarl make a fun guest appearance, and the footnotes are so hilarious that anyone with a pulse should love them. These aspects and other positive points really tie the books together, making the overall experience that much richer.
All in all while I was originally scared the book wasn't going to live up to its predecessors, this fear was wholly disproved. The Ring of Solomon is a fun exciting book with likable characters, a good pace, and enough twists and turns to keep fans interested. Not only that but this prequel to the series does a fantastic job making it possible for new and old fans of the series to enjoy and understand many of the jokes and plot lines. All in all a great book.
Fans of Jonathan Stroud's fantastic Bartimeus Trilogy, that began with The Amulet of Samarkand and ended with Ptolemy's Gate, will be happy to know that the title character--the wise-cracking fourth-level djinn who has long-standing issues with authority--is back and funny as ever in the Ring of Solomon.
Rather than continue the story of the first trilogy, though, or give us a typical "here's what happened just before" prequel, Stroud has chosen to set this new story thousands of years earlier during the time of, well, Solomon (the title's a bit of a giveaway). Luckily, when your main character is basically immortal, that isn't a problem. Bartimeus' favorite bete noir Faquarl, a fellow djinn with whom he's matched insults and blows with for millennia, is back as well. Otherwise, we've an entirely new setting and a whole new cast of characters. Since Bartimeus was the absolute strength of the trilogy, though, the loss of the others makes little difference.
The book opens in Jerusalem, where Bartimeus and Faquarl have been summoned into the service of a cruel Egyptian magician, Khaba, who is in service himself to King Solomon. Years ago Solomon discovered a magic ring of immense power that allows him to summon untold numbers of minor and major spirits, as well as the Spirit of the Ring itself--a forbiddingly powerful demon. Solomon uses the threat of the ring to gather around himself a cadre of magicians whose summoned demons he employs to build his temple, help his people, and cow neighboring realms. One such realm is Sheba, whose queen has several times now rejected Solomon's marriage proposal.
The Ring of Solomon follows several plotlines. One is Bartimeus' trouble in behaving while under the whip (literally) of Khaba, who has his own powerful and mysterious demon protector. Bartimeus' troubles with Khaba open up another storyline as the two, along with Faquarl, get sent into the hinterlands to deal with the bandits that have been ambushing caravans. There, Bartimeus meets Asmira, a Queen's Guard from Sheba who has been sent on a suicide mission to assassinate Solomon and steal his ring. Her attempt to do so, and Bartimeus' involvement, makes up much of the latter half of the book.
As with the earlier trilogy, Bartimeus' voice--he narrates the entire book--is the reason to read this book. Oh, the story itself is more than adequate. There are some twists and turns, a few surprising developments. Asmira develops as a character in realistic and by the end moving fashion. But it's that singular sarcastic boasting footnoting narcissistic voice that carries you along. Whether he's namedropping ("When I was spear-bearer to Gilgamesh"), regaling the reader with his exploits ("your truly forgetfully popping out to buy some figs in the guise of a rotting corpse, thus causing the Great Fruit Market Terror"), or even offering up cooking advice ("one roc's egg, scrambled, feeds roughly 700 wives") it's a voice you can help but get sucked in by.
I laughed out loud on several occasions, read lines and passages to my wife on others, and simply reveled in the voice the rest of the time. Stroud tempers the sarcasm with a true warmth in the tone, as Bartimeus plays the gruff demon who hates all humans (he does, in fact, eat one in the novel), but even Faquarl calls him out on his act: "This has always been your trouble! Getting all softheaded over a human just because she's got a long neck and a steely eye."
In the trilogy, Bartimeus was a major character, but one of several and he had to share the narrative spotlight. With The Ring of Solomon, Stroud has stripped down the characters and streamlined the plot--making this by the way more YA than the trilogy--, letting Bartimeus' voice shine on every page. It doesn't have the depth or complexity of the earlier books, but it is no less enjoyable for that. Highly recommended and hoping for more. After all, there's a gap of a few thousand years to fill in between this book and the first of the trilogy--lots of time and opportunity for Bartimeus to get in more trouble.
Four years after completing the Bartimaeus Trilogy, Jonathan Stroud returns with a prequel set in the same setting. The Ring of Solomon is set several thousand years before the quasi-Victorian era of the previous books. The sarcastic djinni Bartimaeus is enslaved in an era best described as "Biblical".
For those unfamiliar with Stroud's world, The Ring of Solomon serves as an excellent introduction. Djinn (or 'demons') are summoned and enslaved by magicians. They're not very happy about it, but, generally speaking, don't have much control over things.
Bartimaeus is one of the djinn. Even counting for his unusually inflated ego, he's smarter than most - and certainly more troublesome.
The mighty King Solomon rules the known world, aided by a cabal of magicians, his horde of summoned 'demons' and, of course, the vast powers of the titular ring. His wisdom and power are both vast, but not so vast that he can stop all the plotting and scheming amongst his many minions. Bartimaeus, with his magical ability to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, gets caught right in the midst of it all: assassins, coups and (even more) ancient sorceries.
Those familiar with the original trilogy will find comfort in many of the same elements that made it such a success. Bartimaeus is, of course, the hero and the source of greatest enjoyment. He's sarcastic, hilarious, informative and surprisingly adorable. The young Asmira, the well-meaning teenage heroine, is dull in comparison, as are the other human members of the book's cast (except the villain, a scenery-chewing Egyptian necromancer). The plot is predictable, as are its various twists and turns, but each individual scene is a hoot - capped off with one of the best chases I've read in genre fictions.
Although The Ring of Solomon is head and shoulders above the other young adult fiction I've read recently, comparisons against the original trilogy are inevitable. Bartimaeus goes through exactly the same sort of character development (which oddly belies his progression in the trilogy) and the plot is very similar. Due to the length - a single volume instead of three - The Ring of Solomon is less involved and less detailed. It doesn't muster the same depth as the original series and, as such, feels like a watered down version. (An interesting, if tangential, comparison would be KJ Parker's The Folding Knife as compared to his/her Engineer trilogy.)
Overall, The Ring of Solomon is an excellent introduction to Stroud's work and his world. Although enjoyable in its own right, hopefully it leads even more readers back to the ground-breaking original series.
on November 11, 2013
C'mon Stroud! Shake a leg, will ya"? You can't just write four of these and duck out for tea or whatever. Not. Fair.
I love this little demon and the whole series. Huge fun. Highly recommended.
on February 21, 2012
And boy, was it worth the wait! Bartimaeus comes back as bitingly funny and lovable as ever. The characters in the novel are, as usual, nicely fleshed-out (i.e. the heroes are flawed, the villains are at time humorous, at times poignant), and the dialogue remains entertaining and lively. Another familiar character I'm happy to see again is Faquarl, who shares a love-hate relationship with Bartimaeus. Their chemistry is a joy to read and I enjoyed every bit of interaction they had.
I'm taking out one star, however, because part of the main reason why I loved the original trilogy so much was the relationship between Bartimaeus and Nathaniel. The bond that they shared made their interaction with each other a lot more interesting, and I especially enjoyed the mirroring of Bartimaeus's relationship with Ptolemy (how both Ptolemy and Nathaniel released Bart from his bonds right before they sacrificed themselves). In The Ring of Solomon, I didn't feel as strong of a connection between Bartimaeus and Asmira. I was always aware that theirs was a chance meeting and would remain that, which is quite a pity.
Overall though, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would readily devour the next book in the series. However, with the numerous footnotes, I highly suggest skipping the Kindle edition and going for the actual book instead. Having to click on the footnotes link and going back and forth really jarred my enjoyment of the book, which is a shame because it's a great book deserving a smooth read-through!
on November 5, 2014
Bartimaeus is such an amusing character that it's hard not to like these books. He's vain, witty, irreverent, occasionally brave (usually when the only alternative is certain death), and shows more humanity than most of the humans in these stories.
This book lacks the complexity of the earlier books, particularly the first. For example, Asmira is a somewhat paler, less-developed version of Nathaniel, and while both are forced to re-examine their core beliefs, Asmira is much more black-and-white. Nathaniel's ambition and doubts, by contrast, make him a deeper and more satisfying character. Similarly, the antagonists here are simpler - an evil magician - compared to the deeply corrupt society in the first book.
But Bartamaeus' humor and antics carry the day.
One note about the Kindle edition: part of the joy of these books are the footnotes. With the Kindle, these are accessible via links, but these require more navigation. They're well worth reading, but ebook mechanics make this less convenient than print.
on July 17, 2011
Next to the Harry Potter series, the Bartimaeus books are our favorite contemporary youth fantasy novels. In fact, they stand among our all-time favorites, old or new. This series is incredibly imaginative and engaging, and it teaches wonderful, timeless values. Kudos to Jonathan Stroud, and thanks for writing another Bartimaeus book! By the way, please don't make the mistake of thinking the Bartimaeus series is a 'knock off' or 'copycat' of the HP series. Unlike the 'copycat' books that jumped onto the youth fantasy bandwagon after the success of HP, these books stand on their own for overall quality of imagination, character, plot, writing, etc.
on September 14, 2013
I found the first book of the Bartimaeus Trilogy to be the most entertaining. Why? Because it had lots of Bartimaeus and thus plenty of Bartimaeus' wit in it. The story was excellent, too. Probably because the main character was Bartimaeus. Imagine my distress (and, ultimately, boredom) when the next book had almost no appearances by Bartimaeus and the third book was a sad attempt at a compromise between the real main character and the kid.
Luckily, Stroud seems to have realized that the best part of the trilogy was Bartimaeus himself and took steps to correct the mistake of the Trilogy by writing a book that features Bartimaeus prominently. Wit, wisdom, action and entertainment ensue. I only hope that Stroud will continue to give us books pushing him into the lead role. This character really does bring out the best in the author.
Thank you, Jonathan Stroud!
on January 3, 2015
The story is great, but the narrator, Simon Jones, makes it very special. His voice and portrayal was bubbly and musical, making the story move along making you want more. I read this many years ago and am back to read the series again. SABJr