Sometimes, nostalgia can only carry a book for so long before you start to wonder “Is this book ever going to get to the point and begin?” and realize that the book is almost finished. The question changes: do you now throw said book against the wall, or go ahead and finish reading it?
I went ahead and finished Jonathan Stroud’s latest Bartimaeus novel, The Ring of Solomon, and have to admit that I really don’t know why it was written. Admittedly, prequel books can be fun when done right, but this novel seems to be treading more on the Bartimaeus name than anything else, hoping that kids (and adults!) who see the name Bartimaeus will be suckered into buying the book.
The story takes place during the reign of Solomon (which, I’ll also add, Stroud carefully removed any mention of the fact the the kingdom Solomon ruled was the Kingdom of Israel, which seemed… odd). King Solomon has surrounded himself with the most powerful magicians in the world, who all obey him due to the magical ring he wears. This ring is said to give the bearer of it immense power and control of a demon more powerful than any in existence.
Seriously, at this point I was already wondering if he was going to be tasked with stealing it. After all, that’s how the author started The Amulet of Samarkand, which was the first (and arguably, most popular) book of the original Bartimaeus trilogy.
Bartimaeus is tasked by his summoner to fetch mighty prizes for Solomon, who loves to collect magical items. Bartimaeus must go and recover a magical statue, which he feels is beneath his stature. Rightly so, since he is a pretty high level djinn, but he goes anyway and fetches his master’s desire. When he returns, he “accidently” knocks his master out of his protective circle and devours him. Case closed, and now Bartimaeus can return to his plane of existence and get away from all of the humans.
Except that he is resummoned almost immediately is punished for killing his former master by another rival of previously mentioned sorcerer. Bartimaeus is then assigned to a work group of fellow djinn who must build a temple without using magic. That is, as they say, a monumental task for the easily bored (and ever easily distracted) demons.
See, this is about halfway through the book, and at this point I’m still wondering when anything is going to begin. Oh sure, there are plots asunder to kill Solomon and steal his ring, but nobody seems to be doing anything to further their own ambitions. It’s very similar to this other book I read last week where the antagonist keeps waiting and waiting until… it was too late and he gets busted, arrested and executed. Seriously, bad guys, get with the program. Get your sh*t together and be a villain.
Unfortunately, Stroud tends to keep this story very constrained and throws out everything that made the original trilogy magical. There is a very limited sense of wonder in this story, and is more mundane (despite more djinn than ever) than one would expect from a Bartimaeus novel.
This book just felt… forced. I don’t know how else to explain it. I wasn’t very pleased with the novel, and could not get the book to let me immerse myself into it. I rarely have this problem, so when it does rear its head, I find it very distracting and obvious.
Overall, a C-. I felt almost betrayed by the memory of the original books, and I don’t think I would have bought this book if I knew what I know now.
–Reviewed by Jason