The Ring of Solomon
By Jonathan Stroud
The Ring of Solomon is a young adult fantasy novel starring the demon Bartimaeus, made popular by the Bartimaeus Trilogy. It is billed as a prequel to the original trilogy, although it works perfectly fine as a stand-alone work or as an introduction to the Bartimaeus series.
The story is set in 950 B.C.E. in the city of Jerusalem, where King Solomon is ruling with an iron fist. He is able to do this, of course, with the aid of his powerful magic ring. This ring gives him immense power over the world of demons, and he controls myriad servants to do everything from build his temples to import fresh artichoke. Many of these servants are ridiculously overqualified for these tasks, and are both bored and lacking in impulse control. Enter Bartimaeus, who, due to a number of inventive-yet-crude songs, inventive-yet-crude graffiti, and inventive-yet-crude smart-ass comments, is quickly shuffled down the pecking order from 'useful slave' to 'irredeemable hooligan'. The Solomon solution to this misbehavior is to put him to work on a chain-gang that is charged with building a temple... without using magic. Needless to say, this does not help with Bartimaeus' boredom or attitude problem.
Thankfully, before he can do anything too suicidal... Thankfully, just after he makes a completely unnecessary and suicidal comparison between one of Solomon's wives and a hippo, his supervisor is charged with hunting down and exterminating the desert raiders that have been attacking Jerusalem's trade routes. This provides a temporary retrieve from Bartimaeus' likely demise. Bartimaeus completes this task fairly quickly and effectively, killing the marauders and even saving one of their intended victims... and thus enters the central human of the story.
Asmira is a heredity member of Queen of Sheba’s royal guard; deadly with a throwing knife, willing to lay down her life for her queen, and trained in basic magic, mauling, and murder, she is charged with killing Solomon before he does something drastic -- like marrying the queen against her will or requiring a tribute to show her alliance to Jerusalem. She is just days away from Jerusalem when her caravan is attacked by the desert marauders, and by miraculous coincidence, Bartimaeus shows up just in time to save her from an untimely death. Which is great for her, but not so great for king Solomon -- and as it turns out, not so great for Bartimaeus.
This book is perhaps a bit better than the earlier books -- although that may be my philistine side talking. The Ring is a little more fast-moving and the characters a bit more well-defined. In other words, it's a bit more like your average YA novel and a bit less literary. One of the main draws of these books are Bartimaeus' personality and his interactions with humans, and the earlier books tended to digress from that with large expository lumps and world-building. The trade-off, of course, is that the setting suffers... and suffers quite a bit. The 'modern day' world of the earlier books was much more interesting, as a world, than the deserts of 950 B.C.E.
Regardless, I predict that if you liked the earlier books, you will also like The Ring, and vice versa.
Accelerated Reader level, 5.9