Review: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Continuing my reviews of book appropriate for summer fun and lounging in the sun (but not only), I would like to present  the first part of the Bartimaeus trilogy. Reading the blurb you might think it’s just another clone of Harry Potter series. I am happy to announce at once that nothing could be further from the truth.
Firstly, the magical community, invented by Mr. Stroud, is definitely a  more mature and dangerous world. There are no schools of magic and wizards are rather made than born. It works like this: some children aged five are freely given up by their parents to follow the magical training. They come from all walks of life. For their parents it means a large sum of money as compensation; small wonder there are always willing volunteers and the ads in newspapers provide even more encouragement. For children it means leaving their biological family forever, hiding, (at best – totaly forgetting) their real birth-name for security reasons, undergoing a series of tests and finally being allocated to the house of an adult wizard or witch who usually becomes their master or mistress for the rest of their training period. At twelve, the symbolic coming of age, they are allowed to choose a new name by which they will be known as a magician and a man (or woman). In return, they get a chance of becoming a member of the ruling class, living in relative comfort, maybe even making a brilliant career providing they are gifted and ruthless enough.
Secondly, it is the duty of every witch and wizard to train an apprentice every now and then. Witches and wizards don’t have any children of their own as it used to have disastrous effects in the past, leading to competing dynasties and blood feuds. No exceptions. In fact, even without children they constitute a bunch of ambitious, mean, backstabbing careerists, only waiting around for any mistake of their colleagues – a typical pack of wolves. They don’t trust each other but they distrust the entities enslaved by them, their sources of power and glory, even more vehemently. It’s a constant tug-of-war – who will outwit whom. Magicians win most of time but sometimes they die (get eaten or dismembered or both).
Finally Stroud introduces the fascinating workings of the ‘seven planes’ of spiritual world (magicians can see three of them only with special spectacles), the pecking order of magical beings, and the requirements of various spells and enchantments — plus the intrigue behind a group of non-magical commoners known as the Resistance.
Synopsis

 

The book starts with the presentation of the spiritual side of magic: the entities which enable wizards to perform the tricks of their trade. We meet one representative of these powers as we are ushered into a room where the temperature plunges dramatically, icicles form on the curtains and ceiling, and the scent of brimstone fills the air. Suddenly, the narrator reveals itself as the old and powerful djinn Bartimaeus, appearing in front of  a 10-year-old  apprentice, who has summoned him secretively in his room. The boy is called Nathaniel (but the djinn doesn’t know his name yet) and he lives in the household of a Junior Minister, Arthur Underwood; Nathaniel commands Bartimaeus to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from a hotshot upstart, Simon Lovelace as he nurses a grudge against him. Some time ago Lovelace, paying Underwood a visit, ruthlessly humiliated his apprentice in front of everyone present in the room, including one of the boy’s favourite teachers. Although officially masters are supposed to protect and defend their apprentices Arthur failed to do so, clearly afraid of the influential opponent. To add insult to injury he also punished the boy for trying to stand up to an adult, stronger wizard and endangering his position in the ministry. Outraged Nathaniel, a rather ambitious and  highly gifted pupil, decides to kick up secretly his magical training using books from his master’s library and pay Lovelace back. Summoning Bartimaeus is a part of his plan. However, the revenge backfires as the boy clearly has bitten more than he can chew. It’s true that Bartimaeus proves to be more than up to the task set by his young master, but the act of stealing a powerful magical object sets in motion a lot of unpredicted events, catching Nathaniel and the djinn in a whirlwind of espionage, blackmail, murder, and finally a revolt. Apart from that, Nathaniel finds out that summoning beings as old and devious as Bartimaeus is one thing and controlling them is quite another. Will he be able to cooperate with the recalcitrant djinn and punish Lovelace for the committed crimes? Will his master help him?
What I liked:
The magical world created in this trilogy has a truly original touch – finally we see not only wizards performing awesome deeds but we are also informed about the source of their magic and its inner workings. You can even find here some subtle satire on real political parties and politicians. The whole storyline is also darker and edgier than other similar fare, remaining humorous and entertaining at the same time. The character of Bartimaeus is a powerful creation, sometimes even overshadowing poor Nathaniel and his fellow wizards and I must add we got  a very talkative and intelligent djinn – the footnotes of his chapters are one the most hilarious parts of the book!
What I didn’t like:
Sometimes the plot was too predictable. Fortunately not very often. It’s a children’s book after all!
The final verdict:
A highly addictive stuff – if you start reading the first part, you will want to read the rest for sure. Luckily the whole trilogy is available on the market so we don’t have to wait for ages for another installment. It would be unbearable, even though there are no cliffhanger endings here.
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3 Responses to Review: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

  1. Tracy says:

    I've heard of this trilogy but never read it – are they planning on making a movie of it?

  2. Wow! I've never heard of this one. Thanks!

  3. anachronist says:

    Tracy, I would bet this book is a perfect movie material but I haven't heard anything about such plans. If you find something do post a link!Brooke I finally was able to repay your many good book tips – I am very happy!

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