Review of The Amulet of Samarkand – Book 1 of The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

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This book was recommended to me by my niece as one of the best YA fantasy series that she’d read.

A young magician’s apprentice, Nathaniel, secretly summons the irascible 5,000 year old djinni, Bartimaeus, to do his bidding. The task is not an easy one – he must steal the powerful Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a master magician of unrivalled ruthlessness and ambition. Before long, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel are caught up in a terrifying flood of magical intrigue, rebellion and murder.

Katherine was right – this book is excellent. The world Stroud depicts is actually a grim one – magicians are ruthless and deeply amuletunpleasant as they rule over the commoners with a sense of entitlement that is creating widespread dissatisfaction. One of the reasons they are that way, is because they are plucked out of their family surroundings at five years old and apprenticed to a magician, who may be sympathetic and understanding of a young child – or may not… Which is what happens to Nathaniel, who ends up living with Arthur Underwood, a magician of middling ability. But when he says the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong people – there are catastrophic consequences…

The humour in the book is supplied by Bartimaeus, a djinni, who is summoned by Nathaniel and whose first-person cynical commentary on the human characters in the book extend to a series of amusing footnotes. It is a measure of the strength of the characterisation and story arc, that Stroud mostly manages to make this particular device work – despite the fact that Terry Pratchett has made it his trademark since he started writing the Discworld series longer ago than I care to remember…

A lot of the tension in the story is provided by the anger and dislike Bartimaeus feels towards Nathaniel, who has enslaved him by summoning him to do his bidding – and Nathaniel’s own fear caused by the fact that Bartimaeus has learnt his name, and can use it against the young magician. Nathaniel is no Harry Potter – he is precocious, ambitious and vain. It is his pride that causes the initial mess which spirals out of control – and that same dogged determination that also drives him to continue forward, whatever the consequences. He is an intriguing anti-hero and I found the ending interesting, with a couple of compelling dangling plotlines leading me to turn immediately to the next book in the series, The Golem’s Eye.

And if the sequel is the classy, accomplished read of The Amulet of Samarkand, then I will be settling down to devour the book in one demon-like gulp…
9/10

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2 responses »

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