by Jonathan Stroud
New York : Disney/Hyperion Books, 2010.
Before he was summoned by a magician hoping to get revenge in an alternate England, Bartimaeus served one of the many magicians working for King Solomon. Yes, that King Solomon known far and wide for his wisdom and his many wives. But this King Solomon is also known for the ring he possesses, a ring that gives him much power to make demands and to rule over powerful magicians too afraid to cross him. Over in Sheba, young Asmira serves her Queen and country. When Solomon demands that the queen marry him or pay tribute, Queen Balkis sends Asmira on an assassination mission.
Though billed as the prequel to the Bartimaeus Trilogy, this story could absolutely stand on its own. A few characters reappear including, of course, Bartimaeus himself, but this recognition is not necessary at all to the enjoyment of the story. If you have read The Bartimaeus Trilogy, some of the storytelling devices may sound familiar. We are given two characters whose points of view we move between: Bartimaeus and a human. Bartimaeus is his wise-cracking, sarcastic self, and his first-person narration is complete with footnotes. Asmira's side of the story is told in third-person, so we are a little more distanced from her while still understanding her motivations and desires. Unlike The Bartimaeus Trilogy, I wasn't hooked right away. At first the story didn't grip me, and the humor felt forced. I was slightly annoyed with the preachy tone. The story was making good points and didn't need to be quite so blatant in its portrayal of them. But once I hit the halfway point, I felt like something gave. The plot started moving faster, the jokes made me chuckle, and I wanted to devote reading time to seeing what happened. Was it as good as original three? Nah, but it would be hard to compete. Once again, Bartimaeus won me over.