The to-read pile continues to grow (and I have yet to pick up this book club’s selection, A Discovery of Witches, probably because some of the reviews make me feel slightly frightened) and I have an ever growing pile of books that need to be reviewed. So I make some headway and so I feel at least slightly accomplished, I’m writing Wee-Views of some of these books. I’m going to skip all the plot summaries (you can read those on Amazon.com or any other online book site) and cut right to my opinions. I’ll also rate these on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being exceptionally good).
The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud (Bartimaeus Book 4)
I really enjoyed the previous three Bartimaeus books and was looking forward to The Ring of Solomon for months. After all, who doesn’t love a snarky genie getting up to wacky hijinks? This particular book takes place in 950 BC in ancient Jerusalem, which is ruled by King Solomon. Magic is an integral part of the culture, and Solomon himself is the most powerful magician thanks to his ring. Like all powerful people, Solomon has enemies, some of them directly under his nose. I found the book to be entertaining overall, but largely forgettable (I scarcely remembered some of the new characters’ names without having to look them up just now). Bartimaeus himself holds the flimsy narrative together, but the others characters are not nearly as interesting.
What annoyed me especially is the author’s reliance on flashbacks as a means of conveying vital information about a character to explain his or her present-day motivation. I felt like I was watching an episode of Bleach, rather than reading a story by a seasoned author who should know better. For example, we learn that a character was trained in rudimentary magic, and she is, conveniently, attacked, so she can show off her magical acumen and generally look like a badass. I didn’t completely dislike the book, however. I did enjoy the author’s exploration of slavery and what it means. In many ways, each of the characters is a slave, regardless of his or her station in life, and the idea that freedom ultimately lies in the choices one makes.
The Merlin Conspiracy is the follow-up to Deep Secret. Unlike its predecessor, this book is aimed toward young adults, as opposed to adults. Most Diana Wynne Jones book defy plot summarizing because they are far too complex to be boiled down to a few words, and The Merlin Conspiracy is no exception. It involves an intergalactic plot to siphon the magic of an entire world (stemming, more than likely, from a misunderstanding). While it isn’t my favorite Diana Wynne Jones novel (that spot belongs to Howl’s Moving Castle, which I read once every year and wish were about four times its length), it’s far better than many novels I’ve read recently. I always enjoy Jones’ exploration of parallel worlds, which she does in many novels, including Howl’s Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci books (I always wondered what would happen if Howl and Chrestomanci crossed paths). Not only does the book explore parallel worlds, but Jones deftly weaves parallel stories (that don’t necessary unfold at the same time). The clever reader will be able to follow them closely, but for those who simply wish to be entertained and prefer not to read that deeply, Jones’ characters do eventually meet each other, just in time to save the world from a deadly fate. Jones characters are all interesting, though not necessarily likeable, particularly Grundo who turns out to be a bit unsavory. Jones also writes a few delightfully nasty villains (Grundo’s mother). These are, of course, several very likeable characters, including a hapless elephant and a vaguely evil goat. Endings are not Jones’ strong suit, and this book’s ending is slightly muddled, but I’ll forgive her since the ride was so much fun. This book reminds me how much I liked Deep Secret and that I must add it to the re-read pile.