Bartimaeus, the djinni with attitude, is back.
The inimitably insolent Bartimaeus has returned – as a slave to King Solomon, wielder of the all-powerful Ring. Until a girl assassin shows up with more than just murder on her mind and things start to get ... interesting.
In this prequel to the bestselling BARTIMAEUS TRILOGY the djinni is working (against his will) for a magician to King Solomon – a ruler feared and respected as much for his all-powerful Ring as for his own wisdom. Despite all his cunning, sarcasm and general trickery, Bartimaeus is unable to escape his confinement until he meets Asmira, a young Sheban woman who’s at Solomon’s court to carry out a dangerous mission for her queen. Together, she and Bartimaeus find themselves plunged into the ambitious and cut throat world of court politics and will have to rely on each other to survive.
Bartimaeus is one of the best characters in children’s fiction: sarcastic, cheeky, self-important and arrogant, he’s a huge amount of fun whenever he’s on the page. I worried this would read like a cash-in unnecessary prequel, but by and large it works well, with Stroud controlling his plot and characters with panache. If you’re new to Bartimaeus then this is a good introduction to his world, with Stroud reprising his explanation of how magic works in this world, the different types of magical creature used and the relationship between magicians and their slaves.
Bartimaeus’s attempts to escape his magician controllers are hilarious and the snarky footnotes that give background on characters and situations are a lot of fun. Asmira reminded me a little of Kitty and Nathaniel from the BARTIMAEUS TRILOGY in that Stroud uses her to ask questions about individuality, slavery and control, which gave me déjà vu. However her personal journey is well depicted and Stroud is subtle in showing how she changes and portraying her doubts as her certainties are challenged.
As a villain, Khaba is slightly bland – ambitious to the point of being power mad, his background isn’t fully sketched out and the relationship between him and his own magical servant is tantalisingly hinted at without being fully drawn. This is a shame because Stroud is doing something new there and Bartimaeus’s reaction to that is fascinating. Similarly Solomon himself is a cipher who doesn’t get much page time until the final quarter and even then doesn’t make a huge impression in his own right.
For all that though, Bartimaeus’s own charm carries the reader through this book and that, combined with the terrific pacing and bags of plot, makes it well worth a few hours of any child’s (or parent’s) time.
Bartimaeus is back in a prequel to the bestselling BARTIMAEUS TRILOGY that is well worth a few hours of your time. Funny, sharp, fast paced and jam packed with plot, while there is a slight sense of déjà vu in terms of the themes explored, it is nevertheless a delight from beginning to end and a book that 9 – 12 year olds should thoroughly enjoy. If you’re completely new to the character, then it’s probably worthwhile starting here rather than with the Trilogy as it will give you a better idea of what to expect.
BARTIMAEUS: THE RING OF SOLOMON was published in the UK on 14th October. Thanks to the Amazon UK Vine Programme for the ARC.
Cross-posted to books, bookworming, fantasywithbite, kiddie_lit and middlebooks.