I think I read the original Bartimaeus trilogy back in Cannonball IV. It’s definitely a series you need to read before trying to get into this one, which is a prequel. If you have read the series before, you know that humans bind demons to do their bidding, which doesn’t make demons very enamored of humans and on more than one occasion, a demon has found a loophole in his contract and eaten his slaver. Bartimaeus fancies himself as the best demon to ever demon, the most sarcastic and wittiest demon to ever be summoned. (And he’s not wrong.) He’s also the only demon to rarely, barely tolerate humans. It was a big part of the plot in the original trilogy. Bartimaeus made cryptic remarks about only giving humans a chance because of the time he worked for King Solomon. So this prequel is the story of how Bartimaeus developed a tiny, very tiny, soft spot for humans.
Bartimaeus is under the control of a twisted and evil magician of Solomon’s court way back in the B.C.E. days. Constantly in trouble, Bartimaeus is eventually sent to kill bandits in the desert when he meets, and doesn’t immediately eat, Asmira, a young assassin sent by the Queen of Sheba to take out Solomon and his powerful ring. She and Bartimaeus work out a deal that will get him out of his contract and her into Solomon’s presence.
Solomon has a secret regarding the ring, which is eventually revealed to Bartimaeus and Asmira. Solomon is basically the only thing keeping the world together with the ring in his power, so that’s the reason that Bartimaeus sometimes, but not usually, likes humans. After all the buildup in the original trilogy, it is a bit of a let down that it’s just a generic hero quest to save the world. The Asmira subplot is what really makes the book, as the young assassin goes from a patriotic zealot willing to go on a suicide mission for her queen to realizing that she’s always been a tool used by other people and not her own person. But you know me, I love those strong women characters in young adult fiction.