Wisecracks

The wisecracking djinn Bartimaeus is back, this time to match wits with the wisest of the wise, King Solomon! It may be more precise to say the readers are back in time, witnessing one of the litany of exploits of the irrepressible Bartimaeus of Uruk. Not even the epic conclusion of the Bartimaeus Trilogy could keep him in the Other Place for long! It’s understandable that Jonathan Stroud would find it almost impossible to retire such a sensational character as Bartimaeus. The question is what novel tales can yet be told? The illustrious past of this distinguished djinn has already been lauded in the footnotes of the trilogy; which events were significant enough to be told in full, yet not noteworthy enough to be mentioned in an aside, thus giving away the ending?

Personally I’d like to read more about Gilgamesh and Uruk, but that may be played out already. Instead Stroud transports us to Jerusalem in 950 BCE. It is the height of Solomon’s reign, a height achieved and maintained (Stroud would have us believe) through magical might. By selecting a historical character and a common object of power, Stroud also selected some time-honored tropes. Admittedly I’m not a member of the targeted audience for these books, but most young adult readers should be able to associate Solomon with at least two words: wise and wives. That does not make Solomon less interesting as a character, but he does lose some of the mutability that has been the hallmark of the characters in Stroud’s previous books. Because this book precedes the trilogy there is an inherent loss of tension as well; ultimately Bartimaeus will live to crack wise another day.

Even with these self-imposed limitations the book is still a success. Bartimaeus is always entertaining, the drastic change of scenery is revitalizing, and the story is spellbinding. Earlier today it was announced as a 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist in the Young Adult Literature category. That is one measure of its success, but the true measure will be how well it is embraced by the legions of Bartimaeus fans clamoring for another book.

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