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The Ring of Solomon

The Ring of Solomon - Jonathan Stroud As I progress through my "Unfinished Series" project for this year, I go back through my chronology of books read and catch up with the series from most recent to oldest. This means that the further into the list I go, the further back in time I'm going to revisit these series. In some cases, that means having to re-familiarize myself with the original stories, or just re-read them completely. Luckily, with The Ring of Solomon, that's not necessary, since it takes place some 3000 years before the events from the original trilogy.

Bartimaeus is a demon (well, a djinni) who featured in the original trilogy as the assistant to John Mandrake, the magician who willed him to follow his orders. In those three books, Bartimaeus refers to Solomon a good bit, and now we get to see why Solomon featured so prominently in his memory. In this prequel, Bartimaeus serves a magician who serves Solomon, because Solomon has a ring so powerful that no magician or other demons may stand against him. He also gets involved with a young woman named Asmira, who has come to the city to kill Solomon and take his ring due to a threat made against her home country by Solomon.

Bartimaeus is a smart, wise-cracking character who talks to the reader directly through footnoted asides, and while he's one of the central characters of the story, he's not the main character. He's an oddity among demons, since he seems to be able to empathize with humans more than other demons, and despite his cruel, vicious streak (featured prominently in the first 50 pages or so), he's a character with charm who elicits no small amount of sympathy. It's an interesting balance that Stroud strikes with the character, and it works very well. It's also necessary, since demons tend to act, by nature, murderously toward the magicians who seek to control them, but he and Asmira have to work together toward the end of the story.

The story alternates between Bartimaeus' and Asmira's points of view, which is interesting, since only Bartimaeus' story is told in the first person. I can't remember if the original story held to this convention, but it wasn't a distracting device, since Bartimaeus oftentimes refers to parts of his own story in the third person. He's a shape-shifter, so whenever he takes on the shape of something other than himself, he refers to that shape in the third person e.g., "I transformed into the shape of a young man. That man then stepped forward to confront Asmira."). It's somewhat jarring when you encounter it, but it's not something he does all the time (which makes it a little more jarring when you stumble across it). I'm not sure why Stroud chose to write those sections that way, but they're not deal breakers by any means.

Folks who liked the original series should like this prequel well enough, despite the fact that it only features one of the central characters from those books. Bartimaeus wasn't really the star of those books, but he was popular enough to feature in another story. Besides, when it comes to juvenile/young adult books, these books are of a higher caliber than some of the other books out there. They aren't the deepest stories, but Stroud's command of the language is enough to make the stories flow naturally. One could even read this book first before diving into the main series, since this one stands alone just fine.