Title: The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus #1)
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Published: 2003 by Disney-Hyperion
My Rating: 5/5!
(Read the blurb at Goodreads)
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.”