The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud (Bartimaeus, Book #1)
Borrowed paperback from the Boyfriend
Finished reading: 4/22/2011
In six words: Bartimaeus is a riot. Nathaniel, eh.
1) The Amulet of Samarkand
2) The Golem’s Eye
3) Ptolemy’s Gate
4) The Ring of Solomon
Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five and sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.”
If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.
Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine.
Why I Read This Book and General Thoughts
I actually bought this book for my boyfriend for Christmas last year. He’s not an avid reader, but he does like Harry Potter and similar books. I loved Harry Potter, too, but these books are not in my normal diet. He liked this book (and so did some of his family members who borrowed and read it, too), so I figured I’d give it a shot, too. Giving this book a B rating is actually pretty good considering this is not a book or series that I would pick up on my own.
A More In-Depth Look
Bartimaeus is what drives this book and makes it worthwhile reading. The story jumps between two points of view: Nathaniel, the young Magician, which is third person, and Bartimaeus who delights us in first person narration, complete with footnotes that act as side quips. I thought that I would be frustrated by the footnotes because they normally drag you away from whatever it is you’re reading, but they turned out to be funny and not that distracting.
Nathaniel is somewhat of an annoying brat, and as Bartimaeus has said, too clever for his own good. In this world, magicians don’t actually have their own power, they must summon djinni (or, as Nathaniel’s master calls them: demons) to do their bidding. It is a master-slave type relationship. Nathaniel may be strong for his age and shows a lot of potential, but there are certain aspects of being a magician that he clearly lacks the knowledge of and maturity to deal with these things. Bartimaeus is a wizened (and honorable, as he says) djinni, so we mostly learn the important things from him.
Although Jonathan Stroud’s writing style and word choice is quite nice, it somehow distanced from the story rather than sucking me in. I kept noticing the nice flow and almost flowery or poetic language, but in some ways it reminded me of reading my textbooks – too many big words and your mind starts straying. My mind didn’t actually stray, but I wasn’t able to connect to the story as much as I would have liked, and it was easier to set the book down and come back to it at a later time.
You Might Enjoy This Book If…
I believe I pulled this series off a “If you liked Harry Potter, you might like…” list. It’s not really comparable to Harry Potter, though, unless you keep it basic: young adult, magic, fantasy. If you like those things, and a quirky djinni, you might enjoy this book.