Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Jonathan Stroud
Title: The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus #1)
Published: 2003 by Disney-Hyperion
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart 
My Rating: 5/5!

(Read the blurb at Goodreads)

My Thoughts
The Amulet of Samarkand is the first book in the Bartimaeus trilogy - a magical book where magicians rule Britain and it is common for them to use imps and djinn of all kinds for their 'magic'. Magicians have an apprentice each, a child brought from willing parents at a young age, to be educated as a magician and possibly hold a reputable post in the government. Nathaniel is six when he is brought to the magician Arthur Underwood.

That's the basic premise of the story. 

The basic, because you would ask, "What's Bartimaeus?" unless you have already read the books. (I've been a laggard. This book first came out in 2003) Bartimaeus is a 5,000 year old djinni who has lived through, and witnessed, the world's great civilizations, wars, hideousness and humour. He's really intelligent, to say the least. And powerful. That is why Nathaniel, aged 12 and very ambitious, decides to call the famed Bartimaeus to do his bidding - stealing the Amulet of Samarkand from his enemy.

The edition I have
One of the many cool covers for this book

The book opens with Bartimaeus entering the scene in what he hopes is a dramatic way. It worked on Nathaniel to some extent, but it works at multiple levels for a reader. We are immediately introduced to this ancient magical creature, who has seen so much of the world that he decided to be totally modern and 'keeping up with the times'. The entire book is narrated simultaneously from Bartimaeus and Nathaniel's perspectives, going back and forth (to the past and present) in between. Yet, it isn't confusing. If you happen to love Bartimaeus from the very first page (like I did), you'll simply look forward to his POV. 

Why? It's not only interesting and full of action, it is also incredibly funny. 

That's what struck me more than the story. From the very beginning, Bartimaeus had me in splits. Be it direct narration, dialogue, or footnotes, it was written and presented so well that I couldn't resist smiling at the way he talks (and what he says). A major part of what we see in the story (minus the back story) comes from Bartimaeus, including Nathaniel's description, and whatever action is taking place. 

As events unfold and we realize why Nathaniel wants to seek revenge on a powerful magician, we're travelling to many places and witnessing many secrets. Nathaniel has no idea that the thing Bartimaeus has stolen for him would make him run around the city and facing its many dangers. It's not only personal revenge, but a huge machination to overturn the government. It is a pretty interesting story, but more than the plot, it is the elements that are appealing and add weight to the story. Die-hard Harry Potter fans would relate certain instances/plot/ideas that seem similar, but isn't it true that after Harry Potter, most YA fiction stories, especially if those happen to relate to magic, seem somewhat similar? I wouldn't take that against this book, however. It has a decent enough plot, it keeps its focus on central characters, and Bartimaeus takes all the credit for making us laugh. Full marks to that.

PS- I had the fourth book, The Ring of Solomon (received as a gift) since years, but about two weeks ago, I found this book sitting in the 'Free Reads' section of a fantastic sale in a fantastic bookstore. I would have been crazy to not pick it up, right? You have to admit that my impulse book-buying decisions turn out well. ;)

Now I'll sit and begin reading The Golem's Eye, part 2 of the Bartimaeus trilogy. Yay!

Psst: I would recommend this book to readers of all ages, if you're interested in fantasy, that is. If you still need proof, take these quotes from the book:

“A word of friendly advice could have saved him, but dear me, I was too busy watching him unravel to think of it until it was far too late.”

“He was transfixed at the sight of the lords and ladies of his realm running about like demented chickens.” 

“And then, as if written by the hand of a bad novelist, an incredible thing happened.” 

“When I set out from the boy's attic window, my head was so full of competing plans and complex stratagems that I didn't look where I was going and flew straight into a chimney.

Something symbolic in that. It's what fake freedom does for you.” 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Love Among the Bookshelves by Ruskin Bond

When you read a book you really enjoy, and you feel it has become your ultimate favourite (like the previous ultimate favourites), what do you do? Ask your friends if they've read it, in the hopes of sparking a new, interesting discussion; search the web to find people who've read it; read up book reviews and secretly hate those who hated the book; and then you read up on the author. Who is/was he/she? What did they like doing? What were their views on stories and literature? Did they give any interviews? Can I read those?

From what I believe, these are the typical traits of a reader who loved a book and doesn't seem to have had enough of it. The most ardent readers would not only savour the book over and over, but would also read about the author's story, imagining a person who created a story they could associate with so well. 

Therefore, if you are a fan of legendary author Ruskin Bond, the Indian writer who wrote his first book in London at the age of seventeen and decided during childhood that he would be a writer, this is the book that chronicles his reading and writing experiences, and loves. Ruskin Bond begins the book with a clarification - this is not a seamy love story that happened behind a bookshelf, but one person's love of books, reading and writing that happened throughout his life. 

Ruskin Bond was a small boy (of eight, I think) when he accompanied his father in a hunting group. They stayed in a wilderness resort for a few days, when Ruskin realized that he found hunting as a sport rather distasteful. He preferred to stay behind in the lodge and spend time with the caretaker, who left him to his own account for the most part. She did, however, tell him that the books Ruskin discovered there belonged to an old Englishman who had lived there previously, and now belonged to the lodge. By then, he had already read some popular books, but with nothing else to do, he found those books as treasures that opened a whole new world for him. "He reads too many books," complained one of his father's friend, but little did he know how wonderful that habit was.  

Throughout the book, Bond narrates his personal relationship with certain books: books that shaped his ideas, that appealed to him in some way or the other, those that held special significance, and nearly all that helped him learn more about the world, or made him experience beautiful emotions. In a writer's life, the books he/she reads matters a lot. Those books are telling of the writer's sources of information, ideas, thought-processes, likes and dislikes. These help a reader grow close to a favourite writer. 

It's not even just about Bond being a favourite, but about how someone who identified, against all social expectations, early during childhood that writing would be his sole career focus, managed to do it. And do it spectacularly. Ruskin Bond takes us into his growing years, his years in London, and even shows us a glimpse of his favourite passages/pages from his favourite books, telling us more about those books, those writers, the era they lived in, and why they are still relevant. An ardent reader would enjoy discovering titles they never knew existed, and get a better idea of how it all shaped Ruskin Bond's mind, if one is interested in that kind of thing. 

Ruskin Bond
The writing style employed in this book is refreshing, articulate, informative and appealing. I'm not just using these adjectives for the sake of making this look like a book review, but because Love Among the Bookshelf truly deserves all these! I found the beginning chapters really, really interesting, and the level of interest slightly petered out towards the end, but that is entirely personal. You could end up loving it all the more. 

There were instances where I had to stop and look for a pencil to mark certain passages or sentences, because of course, Ruskin Bond is good, and when you come across strong these-completely-makes-sense words, you are left with no other alternative than to mark those out. 

"In time I was to learn that it's the onlooker who sees more of the party than the party-goer; that it's the man on traffic duty who sees more of the passing show than the man behind the wheel; that the man on the hilltop sees the curvature of the earth better than the man on the plain; that the hovering vultures know who's winning the battle long before the opposing armies; and that, when all the wars are done, a butterfly will still be beautiful." 

Details of the book are thus:
Title: Love Among the Bookshelves (as is evident from the post title and the post itself)
Author: Ruskin Bond 
Published: April 2014 by Penguin Viking
Pages: 185
Genre: Non-Fiction; Memoir
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart


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