Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Stroud’

After having read the first three books in The Bartimaeus Trilogy, I just had to check out this recent prequel. I remember reading references to Solomon in the first three books, where Bartimaeus often boasted of his time during Solomon’s reign. Now we get to learn why.

Story overview:
As a slave in Jerusalem (950 BC), Bartimaeus is forced to search for relics for King Solomon. His master is a careless wizard who learns a hard lesson when falling for one of the djinni’s tricks. As punishment, Bartimaeus finds himself under the rule of a more terrible wizard named Khaba.

Forced into a dangerous mission, Bartimaeus comes across a girl named Asmira who was sent by the Queen of Sheba to assassinate Solomon. It wasn’t until later that Bartimaeus learned of the girls mission, but by then it was too late—he was already under her spell.

Being more skillful than the average djinni, Bartimaeus works to bring his new master to her goal. When things begin to unfold, the assassin learns there is more to the story of her mission than originally thought. Including the true powers of the ring (worn by Solomon) and the true colors of the evil wizard, Khaba.

My thoughts:
The Ring of Solomon contains much of the same whit and character twists that The Bartimaeus Trilogy did. It was refreshing to continue in the realm of this fictional world, even if there are only two characters (Bartimaeus and Faquarl) from the original series.

Things to consider:
There are many Christians who will be offended that Solomon was used in this book. At first, even I found offense at the way he was portrayed. I know this is fictional and not meant to be taken literally, but historically he was a man of God (at least, in the beginning). Now, I didn’t give up on the book just because of this and I am glad I didn’t. Without giving away too much of the plot, know that it comes out better in the end. The biggest negative here is that the author made magic the source of Israel’s prosperity (during Solomon’s rein), not God. This, even in a fictional sense, can leave a negative impact on the believer. Still, if you can see past this as I did, you won’t be disappointed. There are no sexual situations or harsh language, however there are some disturbing situations and concepts that were portrayed in a humorous light (such as djinni discussing the best way to eat humans). I would recommend this for teenagers, both boys and girls.

Opportunities for discussion:
A key question proposed in this story is that of slavery. Whether it’s slavery in the traditional sense, or that of a deeper level—often unknown to the person who’s bound. The Bible tells us not to be slaves of this world. Be it addiction, negative habits, insecurities, material goods, money, lust, dependency, or obsession. All these things can end up controlling us, rather than us controlling it.  Read this verse to your children and ask them what it means to be transformed rather than conformed: Romans 12:2 (New American Standard Bible) “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Past reviews in this series:

1) The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1)
2) The Golem’s Eye (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 2)
3) Ptolemy’s Gate (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 3)

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Since I greatly enjoyed reading Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy, I was excited to see that Heroes of the Valley was his latest book.

Well, maybe not latest latest, as it seems he’s coming out with a fourth Bartimaeus novel (The Ring of Solomon), but that has yet to be released (release date: November 2, 2010). So in the meantime, let me tell you about Halli Sveinsson.

Story overview:
A world once ruled by heroes is now the peaceful home of fifteen-year-old Halli Sveinsson. The heroes now long dead, their stories still resonate amongst the Twelve Houses, which have control over the valley. Of course, each house places their founder as the top hero in the tales, but one thing remains consistent: they all worked together to rid the valley of the evil Trows.

A short, stumpy boy, Halli finds himself getting into trouble more often than not. His mischief isn’t appreciated by his older brother nor his mother and father, but there is one person who motivates Halli to aim towards the level of the founders. His uncle. One evening when his uncle ends up having too much to drink, he offends one of the other Houses and ultimately is killed in the process.

On a quest to avenge his uncle’s honor, Halli seeks to bring justice to the murders. In his journey he finds that his childhood tales were not all they were made out to be, and in the process he ends up causing trouble to his House, which leads him to search for a way to restore the order.

My thoughts:

Where I don’t rate this as high as Bartimaeus, I did enjoy the tale. A little slower starting than I like, but overall well worth the read. As always the characters are sarcastic and witty, and I like Stroud’s ability to have them interact in a believable manner. I saw a little bit of Kitty in Halli’s female companion.

Things to consider:

It’s a little crude in places, but overall, nothing I’d consider inappropriate. I’d age rate this preteen +. Good for both girls and boys.

Opportunities for discussion:

The word boundaries comes to mind. To keep the Trows out of the valley, the heroes of old put up boundaries to prevent them from getting in. However, the boundaries also kept all the people from getting out. No one but Halli and his friend seem to question this. And when they did, they found that the heroes were not all they were cracked up to be. Children need boundaries to protect them. However, teaching them to mindlessly following boundaries is not a good idea. Ask your children if they know the difference between good boundaries and bad ones. If they say a good one is bad, be sure to explain, in full detail, why they are in place.

After a year of reading and reviewing lots of interesting books, I’ve come to some conclusions as to which are my favorite reads of 2009.

Favorite Trilogy of the year

1) The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1)
2) The Golem’s Eye (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 2)
3) Ptolemy’s Gate (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 3)

The Bartimaeus Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud is clearly a gem. Great writing, superb characters, intriguing story line, wonderfully dry humor, and a page turner no matter which of the three books you are on. Who knew a boy wizard and his djinni could be so much fun?

Favorite Novel of the year

1) Mimus, by Lilli Thal

From a fairly unknown author comes another gem: Mimus, by Lilli Thal. Built on the idea: “what would happen if a prince had to play a fool?” This medieval tale pulls the reader into the prince’s traumatic situation and keeps one glued to the pages to see how everything turns out.

Favorite Manga series of the year

1) Kekkaishi (Volume 1), by Yellow Tanabe
2) Dragon Eye (Volume 1), by Kairi Fujiyama

This is a tough one; I’m actually stuck between these two. Both have great characters, mysterious story lines, and quality artwork. As each volume becomes available in my local US Library, I’m one of the first to reserve a copy.

What lies ahead for 2010?

I hope my readers continue to follow along as excitedly as I when Books For Youth discovers new and exciting adventures. Please feel free to drop a comment of any suggestions for 2010, either for the site, review process, or books you’re interested in getting a perspective on.

In my review of the second book, I said “Sequels are often a disappointment, but The Golem’s Eye succeeds where others have failed.”

That statement is even more fitting for this third and final installment. I will go so far as to say that this book is the best of all three.

So far in the series, twelve-year-old Nathanial went from being raised by a petty and unloving wizard to defeating another rogue wizard who used the Amulet of Samarkand. A few years after that, Nathanial went on to take position at Internal Affairs, uncover yet another plot that involved a Golem and Gladstone’s staff, and found himself being saved by one of the last two remaining survivors of the Resistance. All with the aid of a sarcastic djinni named Bartimaeus.

Story overview:

Nathanial is now seventeen-years-old and has grown into a young man. With this come increased responsibilities as he is now the Information Minister. As prestigious as that sounds it mainly entails putting together pamphlets and other forms of propaganda to entice civilians to join the wizard’s war against America (one that is going poorly). In doing so he becomes even more cold and indifferent, especially to Bartimaeus whose essence is nearly depleted from having to stay in the human world for so long.

It seems that something deep inside of Nathanial cannot let go of Bartimaeus, who is one of the few reminders of the days when Nathanial used to be a caring lad. It takes a visit to his old school teacher and a face-to-face encounter with the supposedly dead Kitty for him to see what he has become. About the time he realizes this, Nathanial finds himself facing the man behind all the previous plots from the first two books.

The plan is to let spirits take possession of each wizard’s body. This way the wizard would have limitless power. The mastermind failed to realize that this only allowed the spirit to take full control, and soon the land finds an army of angry beings wanting revenge for hundreds of years of enslavement. Nathanial acquires a good partner in Kitty as they both attempt to find a way to save the people: Nathanial to obtain Gladstone’s staff and the Amulet of Samarkand, and Kitty to use Ptolemy’s Gate to enter the other-place and gain Bartimaeus’s favor as an ally of freewill.

My thoughts:

This story is candy for readers. I absolutely loved this series and this volume had me glued to the pages, filled with excitement, and not disappointed with the results (though I could have used a happier ending). I’m glad that Nathanial found his redemption, and that both he and Kitty developed a close bond. My only complaint is that this series has come to an end; I have grown so fond of it that this idea is a little depressing, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Things to consider:

There are some disturbing elements, but nothing beyond what is appropriate for this tale. The closest “inappropriate” situation is when Kitty summons Bartimaeus, who chose the form of a scary demon without clothing. Actually, this is done quite humorously and it is a laugh to see Kitty’s response, but the scene does have potential to be a little questionable. That is, if the reader takes it beyond the lighthearted intentions. Also, parents need to be clear that the “spirit” element of this story is fictional; they need to inform their children about the differences between these fantastical elements verses real-world ones. I can see some Christians holding picket signs and yelling accusations against this, but that’s the point of this blog: to thwart this kind of ignorant behavior. I stick to my series rating, preteen (tween) and older. Not gender specific.

Opportunities for discussion:

A main topic in this story is the risk of one losing their morals to the pressures of fitting into the mold of society. A Christian message you might add? Indeed so. Ask your children if they have ever compromised their morals for the sake of fitting in, then ask them how that made them feel.

Past reviews in this series:

1) The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1)
2) The Golem’s Eye (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 2)

TheGolemsEye_B2To my pleasure, I have finally been able to read the next book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy. Sequels are often a disappointment, but The Golem’s Eye succeeds where others have failed.

In the last book, twelve-year-old Nathanial was forced from his parents and raised by a low-class wizard named Arthur Underwood, who treated the boy with distain. After secretly growing in knowledge—so not to be chastised by his master—Nathanial was one day treated poorly by one of the man’s guests, Simon Lovelace. With the help of a djinni named Bartimaeus, Nathanial finds out that Lovelace is up to more than the boy bargained for.

Story overview:

Two years after the defeat of Lovelace, Nathanial finds himself in a prominent position at Internal Affairs. When put in charge of tracking down the Resistance, he finds himself in a bind. Not only is he unable to discover who they are, but a new mystery appears and he is stuck trying to solve it.

After many attempts to summon efficient djinni, he turns to Bartimaeus as a last resort. Since this particular djinni knows his true name, it comes as a great risk to Nathanial, however, they agree to work together for a specific amount of time (with Bartimaeus prepared to divulge the boy’s true name soon afterwards.)

Discovering that the second threat is a Golem controlled by an unknown wizard, Nathanial finds himself in a tough position. Not only does the community of wizards not believe him, but he ends up trying to prevent himself from becoming their scapegoat. Unfortunately for him, it gets worse before it gets better and Nathanial does all he can do to keep his head above water (literally.) Kitty—the last living member of the Resistance—ends up crossing paths with Nathanial and the unexpected results surprise them both.

My thoughts:

I love the twist of making wizards in general the bad guys. Something not often tackled in fantasy. Kitty seems to have taken the place of Nathanial at “good guy,” as Nathanial has gone down the corrupt and self-seeking path of wizardry. I have yet to read the third book (is there hope for Nathanial yet?) but so far, I would say this is my favorite trilogy of the year. Wonderfully creative and absolutely humorous, I caught myself laughing out loud as I did in the first book. It did seem to me as if the beginning of the book was a little slower than the first one; there is more back-story, but if you keep with it you will see how necessary it is, after all, a minor character from the first book has become a huge part of the second. Kitty even has her own point-of-view along with Nathanial and Bartimaeus. Great character interactions and storytelling. A+, five stars, I cannot say enough.

Things to consider:

Overall, a really clean story. No foul language other than the occasional mention of a character cursing, no sexual situations or inappropriate references, and nothing that a sound believer would/should consider compromising. As I mentioned in the last book, the references towards demons is purely represented as a human misconception in the story. They are a type of fantasy spirit mentioned in old tales such as Aladdin’s lamp. There are some deaths and situations of violence that may be considered a little frightful for younger children, but overall I’d say preteen (tween) plus, the plus being adults too. Good for girls and boys, this one being a little more girl friendly than the last.

Opportunities for discussion:

I believe freewill is one of the more dominant topics in this tale. Bartimaeus often finds himself being reminded of his lack of freewill and the human’s power of slavery over him. This makes it worse when he thinks of humans and the fact that they do have freewill. This is a great Biblical topic with much opportunity for discussion. I suggest starting by asking your children what they think freewill is, and then ending it with your ideas on the matter.

Past reviews in this series:

1) The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1)

One final note:

I wonder if there is a chance that Kitty is Nathanial’s sister. We never hear his “true” last name, and I have a suspicion that she may be from the family who gave him up. Perhaps a long shot, but that’s my writer’s brain in action.

The Amulet of SamarkandI stumbled across “The Amulet of Samarkand” in February, and am surprised that I haven’t heard of it before. This is the first book in the “Bartimaeus Trilogy”, and so far I’m impressed. I particularly liked how Stroud used POV (Point of View).

Typically, most authors pick a POV and stick to it (for good reason), however Stroud very successfully worked in a mix. There are basically two POVs, and he changes back and forth between them in each chapter. In the Bartimaeus chapters, Stroud uses first-person. In the Nathaniel ones, he uses third-person. At first this threw me off, but after a few chapters it became quite clear and quite cleaver.

Story overview:

An eleven-year-old boy named Nathaniel–or at least that’s his true name–forced to become an apprentice magician at a very young age, struggles in a love deprived home. He spends his days studying and memorizing the art of magic. Because his master is so mediocre, he wishes to keep Nathaniel below him, and so the boy hides the fact that he is years ahead of the game.

One day, when challenged to a battle of wits by an arrogant wizard named Lovelace, Nathaniel quickly proves his knowledge of the art. Rather than showing recognition, Lovelace gets angry and makes a fool of Nathaniel by calling an imp to physically assault him. This begins a chain of events between Nathaniel and Lovelace, which only gets thicker and thicker as the story progresses.

Ultimately, Nathaniel summons a djinni (pronounced jin-ee) named Bartimaeus to steal an object from Lovelace, only to find that the Amulet of Samarkand is going to be used as an object for the master wizard’s dreaded plot. The boy and the djinni find themselves dependent on each other in order to bring down the evil wizard.

My thoughts:

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I would even go so far as to say that I loved it! Many of the arrogant comments that came from Bartimaeus forced a literal LOL out of me, and the characters are both wonderfully and dreadfully (in a good sense) designed. Great tensions between them all. I will absolutely read the next book in the series, and am looking forward to doing so soon.

Things to consider:

I would say this one is appropriate for pre-teens and teens, and though more geared towards boys, girls should be able to enjoy it too. There’s no sexual content to speak of, and the only real cursing is creatively covered by the author’s wit. There is some violence, but nothing above and beyond what is appropriate for this kind of story. I can see the biggest problem some people might have is with the summoning; bringing forth entities, called djinni, to do the will of the wizard. Some people in the book even call them demons, but keep in mind that, although this does take place in a real-world scenario, many of the things in this world are fantastical and not meant to be taken literally. Keeping this “make believe” stance in mind I don’t have a problem with it. The only thing I didn’t really like were the few references to the biblical character Solomon; nothing truly offensive, but I just don’t like it when authors add things to biblical characters for the sake of a story.

Opportunities for discussion:

This is a wonderful opportunity to talk to your children about pride, for which C.S. Lewis calls, “The Great Sin”. The evidence of this is clearly spoken in this story and it shows the great folly behind it too. Another great topic is revenge, and how it only becomes more and more entangling. Also, because of the points I mentioned in “things to consider”, this is a good time to let your kids know that messing with the spirit world is no game–something that even this tale demonstrates.