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Battle of the Books

Round 3, Match 2: Trash vs. The Ring of Solomon

Trash
by Andy Mulligan
David Fickling/Random House
The Ring of Solomon
by Jonathan Stroud
Hyperion Books

Judged by
Karen Cushman


When I first saw the two titles that were coming my way, I assumed that one would deal with serious contemporary issues and the other be a fairy tale. I was right, but I put the hats on the wrong heads.

Trash is a gripping examination of unthinkable poverty, abuse, and official corruption. Andy Mulligan gives us adventure, danger, mystery, a treasure hunt, and coded messages. Some have called it a book about a dystopian future. I found it unfortunately much too likely and current. And yet it is a fairy tale, pitting good children against evil adults, who out-clever and out-maneuver the grownups and live happily ever after. They accomplish all this by lying and stealing with little remorse. It’s all they know and their means of survival. It put me in mind of Hansel and Gretel eating the witch’s house, substituting a chicken bone for Hansel’s finger, and finally pushing the witch into the oven she had prepared for the children.

The book, like the Grimm’s fairy tale, asks who are the villains? Who the real thieves and liars?

I loved Trash (I hear Oscar the Grouch singing every time I type the word) and cared deeply about the boys. I loved Raphael’s little shelf of treasures, Rat’s pride and shame at sharing his hole with the other boys, Raphael throwing his arm over Rat as they slept and how much it meant to Rat. I found them touching in their loyalty and affection.

The writing is immediate and descriptive. I could smell the steaming trash and feel it move under my feet. I felt the boys’ fear and their excitement as they began to unravel the mystery. Trash is a marvelous story of trust, resilience, perseverance, friendship, and ultimately hope.

And The Ring of Solomon? I must admit I am not a big reader or a big fan of fantasy novels. When I saw early on that A Tale Dark and Grimm and The Ring were both in my bracket, I anticipated I would have an easy time eliminating them. This just goes to show you how much I know. And now I publicly shed my credentials as a thoughtful, caring, mature person and reveal my snarky, ironic underbelly.

Woo hoo! The Ring of Solomon! I was gobsmacked. What a book!

I had not read the Bartimaeus trilogy and knew little about it so I came to The Ring as a stand-alone title. And I found it exuberantly plotted, with evocative descriptions, terrific language, and intriguing
characters, both human and otherwise.

I loved the distinctive voice of the rude, irreverent, sarcastic, resourceful, and surprisingly lovable Bartimaeus. Sure, djinni eat people but still I felt great pity and compassion for his deep longing for home and hatred of his enslavement.

The book is wonderfully funny but had wise things to say about slavery and freedom, mindless obedience, and dying for empty concepts. Asmira, the teenaged Sheban sent on a suicide mission, is a true believer to a fault. Wise Solomon tells her, “I’m not your master…try not to need one.” And Bartimaeus says, “I know I’m enslaved…That gives me just a shadowy slice of freedom.” As Jonathan Stroud tells it, the issues of 950 BCE are the same we face today–the dangers of terrorism, fanaticism, and zealotry, and the price of power.

And oh those snarky footnotes. I must say I’m a sucker for witty cynical comments about the human condition (As Lily Tomlin wisely said, “No matter how cynical you get, it’s impossible to keep up.” Bartimaeus would no doubt agree).

In the end it was not only the language, the characters, the exuberance, and the snarkiness but also the depth and complexity of the themes that toppled Trash. The Ring of Solomon is close to brilliant. It’s my choice. Now excuse me, I have a trilogy to read.

— Karen Cushman

And the Winner of this match is…

… THE RING OF SOLOMON



I liked Trash well enough.  It’s a great book for all the reasons our judges have enumerated.  I’m happy to see it get increased exposure here, and I’m grateful to Monica and Roxanne for calling the book to my attention.  But I thought once The Ring of Solomon got past Sugar Changed the World it had a clear and unobstructed path to the finals regardless of whatever book it encountered on its way there.  I’ve read some various complaints (mostly minor) that this book doesn’t live up to the Bartimaeus trilogy, but I don’t agree with that at all.  I think it’s a perfect standalone prequel which takes our lovably irascible rogue and drops him into a new milleu, one with striking parallels to our modern world, as Karen pointed out. I’d take The Ring of Solomon over Keeper, but just barely.  It’s really a matter of personal taste.  And then there’s till the Undead Poll winner to throw into the mix . . .

— Commentator Jonathan Hunt

Roxanne Feldman About Roxanne Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at roxannefeldman@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. I didn’t pick Ring of Solomon to win (the defeat of One Crazy Summer destroyed my bracket) but it was my favorite book. I too haven’t read the previous books in the series, but this one works perfectly well as a stand-alone. It is a delight — wonderfully funny but quite serious at the same time. I hope Richard Peck loves it too.

  2. What a review–generous, specific, and clear as a diamond! Whenever I visit a bookstore and see that Karen Cushman has a new book out, I take out my wallet before I’ve even read the jacket flap. I’m not a huge fan of big fantasy tomes, either, but I’m convinced–SOLOMON lies ahead.

  3. Paige, I am still clinging to the idea of One Crazy final victory.

  4. Gobsmacked is a good word for it–I had a similar reaction when I read the book last fall. Excellent write-up! The fact that Ring of Solomon overcame this judge’s admitted genre bias is a testament to just how good it is.

    Now, if Conspiracy of Kings would rise from the dead, my happiness would be complete…

  5. Waaaaaa, I will concede that THE RING is everything Ms. Cushman says, but I have been TRASH-talking Raphael and Co. nonstop since I finished this book. I could not have loved that book and it characters more.

    I never would have found it without BoB, so for this I am truly grateful.

    Bartimaeus and Eugenides will be formitable foes for innocent little Keeper.

  6. Ha! Hansel and Gretel will be too!

  7. It’s not that I think that THE RING OF SOLOMON didn’t live up to THE BARTIMAEUS TRILOGY. It’s just that THE BARTIMAEUS TRILOGY is a towering work of genius. I gave my review of the first book 3 stars, the second book 4 stars, and by the end of the third book, I was convinced that the things I hadn’t liked about the earlier books (such as unlikeable characters) contributed perfectly to the final winding up of everything, so that I revised my opinion to thinking the entire trilogy is absolutely brilliant.

    THE RING OF SOLOMON is brilliant in a smaller, shorter way. But still definitely brilliant.

    Karen Cushman, you are in for a treat!

  8. I meant to say that I gave the 3rd book 5 stars. (I hope it was implied.) And my opinion reached back to the earlier books of the trilogy. It’s the way I like a trilogy: Standalone titles that definitely contribute to the whole. I appreciated the earlier titles more by the time I finished the book.

  9. You people just delight in killing me!! I finally finished Trash because I was sure it would be in the final 3 but NO! Now I have to go and finish The Ring of Solomon. These were both books I abandoned!

  10. Fantastic! Wonderful choice my dear Ms. Cushman! I have awaited the day when my second favorite gets into the Big Kahuna Round! Alas, Alack. I do wish it was Countdown…

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