The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud
I’m going through a bit of a reading slump, and so I decided to turn to one of my favorite, easy (as in, easy to read and enjoy, not sexually, though, who knows?) writers: Jonathan Stroud. I’ve been meaning to read his prequel to the Bartimaeus trilogy, The Ring of Solomon, for a while, and a reading slump seemed like as good a time as any to crack open something that was almost guaranteed to be a pleasurable read.
The setting is Jerusalem sometime in antiquity (can you tell I’m not much of a history scholar?), and old King Solomon is ruling this corner of the world with a magical ring that can summon all manner of hell spawn to do his bidding. He’s proposed marriage to the neighboring Queen of Sheba a couple times and after she’s given him a big fat NO MEANS NO he decides to threaten her kingdom with war unless she pays a heavy tithe in frankincense, which is a pretty good way to deal with rejection, don’t you think? Outraged at his impertinence, she sends her best lady guard to assassinate him and steal the ring that has the entire ancient middle east shaking in their boots. Said lady assassin meets up with my favorite djinni of all time, Bartimaeus, who with his debonair wit and high opinion of himself begrudgingly allies himself to her cause. Hijinks ensue, etc., etc.
While I did enjoy The Ring of Solomon quite a bit, I’m not sure I’d say it got me out of my reading slump. I smiled, I laughed, I felt fairly invested in Asmina’s plight and found her growth as a character rewarding, but I just didn’t totally feel it as much as I would have hoped. I will say that I always enjoy Jonathan Stroud’s obvious distaste for power structures, since his books often point the finger at the corruption of power and injustice of its distribution; here it got an especially potent treatment in illustrating that for all of Asmina’s holier-than-though fervor for the honor of her post, she is still just as much a slave as Bartimaeus is. Interesting take on the “honor” and sense of duty that soldiers feel for their calling.
The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg
Jenny Nordberg, a Swedish investigative journalist based in New York, spent (several?) years in Afghanistan researching the cultural phenomenon of the bacha posh, or girls who spend at least part of their childhood (and sometimes, adulthood) as boys. I won’t spoil it for you by explaining all the subtle ins and outs of why this happens, but I will slap a big old blanket “this is what happens when you have a highly oppressive patriarchy” sticker on it and hope that you, also, will be curious enough to read this book because it’s pretty freaking excellent. In The Underground Girls of Kabul Norderberg shares the stories of women whose lives have involved bacha posh in one way or another; all of these stories are riveting, heartbreaking, hopeful, disturbing, you name it. There’s so much good feminist juice and examination of just how socially constructed gender is, AND I learned SO MUCH about Afghan culture and history through reading this book. I talked about it nonstop while I was reading it and I hope hope hope some of you will go out and get your grubby little hands on it, too. I listened to the audiobook and I was a minimum of 90% absorbed the entire time I was listening, and I am a HUGE space cadet that occasionally struggles with audiobooks so that’s saying a lot.