Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Ring of Solomon

I just finished Jonathan Stroud's latest Bartimaeus book, The Ring of Solomon.

If you don't know this guy, Bartimaeus is a djinni that's summoned by various wizards, enslaved by them temporarily, and made to do acts of magic on their behalf. That's actually the way magic works in Stroud's world. Magicians don't really cast spells - primarily they summon the magical creatures that can do such things for them. These creatures don't do so willingly, and they're always on the lookout for any mistakes on their master's part that might free them to... well, eat that unfortunate master.

I enjoyed the original trilogy: The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem's Eye and Ptolemy's Gate a couple of years ago. Read those with my kids. This new standalone title I read all by my lonesome, though. My favorite parts of the first series were the Bartimeous sections. He's a sarcastic, humorous, self-indulgent narrator, well versed in history - since he's lived through it - and with opinions on everything, especially his own shining virtues. That's probably why I liked this one; it's more heavily Bartimeous.

Good fun. I love the combination of historical material, full on fantasy magic, and healthy dose of snarky humor. Am I the only one that thinks such stuff is tons of fun?

No, of course not. But sometimes when you say to your agent, "Hey, what if I was to write middle grade fantasy set in some distant time period, like... ancient Egypt?" and the agent says, "Ah... No, you don't want to do that. Kids want to read about contemporary stuff, something relevant to them." Well... it sort of makes it seem like I'm weird.

See, kids may want to read about something contemporary and relevant to them, but I'm not terribly interested in that. I want to write for kids - my own included - but I want to take them to far away, strange and fantastic places in the process. Isn't that at the heart of so many classic childrens books? Adventure. Magic. Far, far away... I think so, and when I read Bartimeaus and his long life since the days of ancient Uruk I'm even more sure of it.

Here's what School Library Journal had to say about it:

Fans of Stroud's “Bartimaeus Trilogy” (Hyperion) will cheer the return of the sarcastic, chatty, and mischievous djinni in this prequel. Or perhaps this should be termed a pre-pre-prequel as the setting is an alternate version of biblical times during the reign of King Solomon, where magicians command djinni and Solomon rides herd over the known world due to his possession of an all-powerful ring that causes everyone to cower before him. The Queen of Sheba, aware that Solomon is preparing to disrupt her country's frankincense trade due to her refusal of his multiple marriage proposals, sends her most trusted guard, Asmira, to kill Solomon and steal the ring. Meanwhile, Bartimaeus has been humiliated because of his misbehavior and forced to work for Solomon's henchman, Khaba, on his new temple. After an amusing incident in which Bartimaeus is caught in the form of a hippo while illegally using magic to lay stones for Solomon's temple, he is sent to hunt other creatures who are disrupting trade routes. He encounters Asmira, traveling to Jerusalem under an assumed identity to accomplish her mission. How Bartimaeus ends up as her servant, and what they discover about the truth of Solomon's power, makes this a delightful and fascinating book, and it's likely to bring new fans to the original series. Bartimaeus is a wonderful creation, with his constant storytelling digressions delivered in the form of footnotes. But the new character, Asmira, is equally well rendered, with her keen ability with daggers providing her with much-needed self-defense. Definitely a must-purchase for most libraries.

Not exactly super-contemporary, but that doesn't seem to have done the series any harm. Mr. Stroud has sold a few million of these books already, and there's no reason to think he won't keep doing so. Has a nice life, he does. Rides his bike to his office every day. Writes. Has tons of young fans around the world... Yeah, it's good to be a successful writer.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Ron Smith said...

I enjoyed the original trilogy immensely. And you're right, Bartimaeus's snarky, witty tone is a treat to read. I also like how the author writes from two different tenses, if I remember correctly: Jonathan is third person and Bart is first. Um, I think.

Another one of my favorite MG series is Sabriel by Garth Nix.

8:13 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Ron,

Yes, I'm a Garth Nix fan too. Loved the Abhorsen stuff!

10:26 AM  
Blogger Ron Smith said...

I heard the rights were sold for a Sabriel film. Wouldn't it be great if a gifted diector did this without the typical Hollywood tropes?

7:20 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

That would be cool. Could be a very interesting movie. It could not be, as well, but one has to hope...

9:30 AM  

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