The first part of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, "The Amulet of Samarkand" is set in a mostly recognisable London - admittedly, with a few noticeable changes. The Tower of London is still a feared prison and the Empire (which still exists) is at war with the Czech Republic. Magicians are the ruling class, holding all positions of power, while the non-magical human masses are referred to as commoners. Indeed, the Prime Minister is described at one point as a rather vain magician whose speciality is Charm - though he rarely bothers even with that nowadays. Clearly - ahem - that has no basis in reality at all. These magicians derive their power from their ability to summon and control a variety of demons - for example, afrits, djinn and imps.
The book begins with the first summoning of a djinn called Bartimaeus by a magician's apprentice called Nathaniel. Nathaniel orders the Bartimaeus to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from a very powerful magician and minister called Simon Lovelace. One thing leads to another and, sooner than you can say "N'gorso the Mighty", there's murder, mystery and mayhem - with the added bonus of some young and mysterious human revolutionaries. Needless to say, Lovelace is at the heart of the wrongdoing and the Amulet is clearly at the crux of his dastardly plans.
Nathaniel and Bartimaeus are the story's central characters and the focus of the story alternates back and forth between them. As things progress, we learn more about both our heroes - for example, how Nathaniel came to be a magician's apprentice, why he's picking on Simon Lovelace and a little about Bartimaeus' former masters.
Stroud has taken an interesting approach - he writes Nathaniel's story ("Nathaniel's eyes narrowed"), but the djinni tells his own ("I sat on the ground cross-legged"). It's an approach that works superbly. Bartimaeus, for me, is the star of the show - the parts of the book that focus on him are among the funniest I've read in a long time. Caustic, sardonic, irreverent and hopelessly vain, he spends much of the book hoping to betray his master and plotting his downfall. The footnotes included in his sections also allow him to explain certain things or wander slightly off-topic. With a film of this book already in the pipeline, I can see fights breaking out in Hollywood for this part.
This book has been described as the next Harry Potter - well, they are both about boys and magic, but that's about as far as it goes. While there's no-one in the Harry Potter series as funny as Bartimaeus, there's nobody in this book with the menace of Voldemort. Where Harry attends Hogwart's and has Hermione and Ron, it would appear that Nathaniel has rarely even left his master's house and no friends his own age. Furthermore, while there's barely a flaw in Harry's character, Nathaniel has many. However, "The Amulet of Samarkand" deserves to be every bit as popular as any book in the Harry Potter series - it's an excellent story that's very well told.
on 3 October 2003
I am not a huge reader (perhaps 1 or 2 book a year) but when I was passed The Amulet of Samarkand I found it difficult to put down. As soon as I started to read the opening chapters I became immediately absorbed into the story. I felt that the opening pace is well maintained throughout the book which kept me wanting to read 'just one more chapter'. Jonathan Stroud has got the ability to give descriptions which enable you imagine you are seeing, at first hand, all the action - of which there is plenty.
The subject matter is not my usual choice but I felt the combination of fantasy with the reality of possible secret 'goings on' in parliament worked well together.
I feel that the book is aimed at teenagers aswell as adults providing entertainment on different levels dependant on the reader. The use of footnotes is not something that I have experienced in a novel before but they provide some great insights into the characters and their history and are very amusing - so don't miss them out.
Essentially the story is about a young magician (Nathaniel) who seeks revenge on an adult magician (Simon Lovelace) who has made fun of him....oh yes and who also wants to overthrow the Prime Minister. Nathaniel needs to use the powers of a djinni (Bartimaeus) to do his bidding and get revenge upon the magician. This leads both of them into all sorts of trouble which is why the book moves along at such a rapid pace.
I would recommend this book to anyone 10 years old and above and would hope you get as much enjoyment out of it as I did.
Can't wait for the next book!!!!!
on 4 May 2006
One of the best books that I have ever read.
When Nathaniel, a fast learning magicians apprentice, tries to get one back at his enemy, Simon Lovelace, for humiliating and beating him at a meeting(for being a bit too clever) a few years ago, he doesn't realize who he's fighting with.
He summons a very high ranking spirit, a fourteenth level Djinni, Bartimaeus; he orders it to steal a very precious item from the magician, the Amulet of Samarkand.
Lovelace becomes furious and suddenly Nathaniel and Bartimaeus are plunged into a bloody, murderous adventure full of excitement.
I am a 12 year old boy who loves the fantasy and fiction kind of books. I got this book for Christmas last year and was contemplating whether I should read it or not, I wasn't sure what to do for I have loads of books that I could read. In the end I decided that I would try it out...
...That book was absolutely AMAZING! The plot was a very well thought out and exciting one. The author has made the accounts told from two very different sides of the story and I thought that that was very cleverly done. The footnotes are great, sometimes even hilarious. The mix of wit and hilarity goes perfectly. The writing is very imaginative and clever.
As soon as I finished this book I found myself turning the first page of the next book, The Golems Eye.
I recommend this book to anyone of any age, especially young people who love fantasy.
on 3 October 2003
There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book and when I opened it, I have to admit I was a little cynical; it was hard to read it without constantly analysing "Is this book really worth £2 million?" But soon I stopped caring. The book had me gripped from start to finish. Cleverly structured, it alternates between the first-person viewpoint of a djinni and Nathaniel, a young magician who sets out to take revenge on Simon Lovelace. The characters are brilliantly drawn and by setting up a conflict between Nathaniel and Lovelace, the author sets the stage for a wonderful battle of mighty opposites...
In terms of imagination, this book far outstrips Harry Potter. I recognised some of the magical background in the novel, having read the odd text myself out of interest, and one senses that the author did plenty of careful research - the result is that, though the book is a fantasy, there is a sense of versimilitude and even in its wierdest moments it remains convincing. In terms of character depth and insight, I thought this surpassed HP5; Nathaniel is a far more convincing angry adolescent than HP.
Above all, the author has an elegant, seductive, intelligent prose style. Maybe this isn't as amazing as Pullman, but it comes close and I cannot wait to read the rest of the triology.
This book deserves the hype!
on 7 November 2003
Fantastic! I cannot wait for the next installment. This book is well written and moves quickly. Set in London this book has all major politicians depicted as magicians who dabble in intrigue. Into this situation comes Nathaniel, a very able boy and apprentice to Mr. Underwood. Angered at the slow pace of his tuition Nathaniel studies hard and learns quickly. His timid and self conscious master proceeds too slowly for Nathaniel and Nathaniel soon discovers this causing him to view his master contemptuously. Summoning a djinee he sets off a chain of events that coninually spiral out of his control. Written alternately from the boy's and djinee's viewpoints this book is a refreshing slant on the current magic fixation as well as giving a more modern (English?) setting to some of the Arabian Nights fantasy.
on 30 December 2005
Two years ago I spent my Christmas Day reading ‘The Amulet of Samarkand’, a book that had been so hyped up by my friend Gemma that I thought perhaps she may have over exaggerated it a bit or else had a little too much ‘Festive Cheer’ that was revealing itself in unusual ways.
[Such book enthusiasm hadn’t been seen from her since Harry Potter!]
Christmas Day dawned and surprise! surprise! under the tree sat my very own copy of ‘The Amulet of Samarkand’. Time to find out if the hype was true…
Well, you’ve probably guessed from my 5 stars rating what I thought. I sat there engrossed the whole day and nothing, ‘cept Crimbo dinner, could distract me from this fabulous story. A refreshing read. Amazingly realistic characters and a wicked sense of humour throughout. It had me giggling from start to finish with Bartimaeus’s wry thoughts and sarcasm. [The highest form of wit! :)]
I found Nathaniel an intriguing and unusual protagonist, but highly likeable and wickedly real because of his flaws and imperfections.
It wouldn’t do to compare this book to any other as it is unlike anything I have ever read. The characters are unique as is the setting of London and its Parliament comprising entirely of Magicians. [Well, we call them Magicians but it’s really the Djinni who do all the work and the Magicians who get all the credit!]
It left me wanting more which is the mark of any good book.
My advice is simple: “Buy this book! You will not regret it.”
Once upon a time, in an alternative magical version of London, there lived a young boy by the name of Nathaniel, who was apprenticed to a magician. In this London, magicians ruled the country as members of parliament, with their own invisible army that included imps, marids, afrits and djinns, waiting to be summoned into service.
Young Nathaniel was a fairly diligent pupil, until one day when a haughty, braggart magician named Simon Lovelace humiliated him publicly and his weak master failed to defend him. Angered by this unfortunate experience, Nathaniel immersed himself into his studies, and just like the Sorcerer's Apprentice before him, soon began experimenting with magic far beyond his capacity to control.
In a calculated act of revenge, he summoned a powerful and ancient djinni named Bartimaeus and commanded him to steal Lovelace's most cherished possession. Bartimaeus is the craftiest, funniest, and least modest fictional character in recent young adult fiction, and his part of the story is the most entertaining I've read for a long time.
Of course when magic is involved, lots of things can go wrong, and they certainly did for Nathaniel, his master and Bartimaeus. Diabolical deeds, murderous plots, and magical mayhem are all on the menu in The Amulet of Samarkand, which I highly recommend to all young readers.
The Amulet of Samarkand is the first in Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy - Bartimaeus being half of the focus of the book and a highly sarcastic djinni.
The other half is the young apprentice magician, Nathaniel, coming of age in an alternative-reality London. The book's focus is his quest to right the wrongs done to him in his short life and moves on to his fight against the tangled plot to overthrow government.
The book is based in and around Stroud's London - a very similar place to the London we all know, except that Stroud's Parliament is run by magicians who take their powers exclusively from demon-kind summoned from the Other Place. Bartimaeus is one of those, a djinni summoned by Nathaniel.
Stroud's work is really exceptional stuff. It has the easy-readability of Harry Potter and a fast-paced, entertaining style all it's own that makes it great for kids and adults alike. The book is split into two distinct methods of telling the tale, a traditional narrative and the first-person story told by Nathaniel's conjured djinni, the hilarious Bartimaeus himself.
This is not the type of book I would usually pick up, but as it was a Christmas present I felt obliged to read it. I am very pleased that I did, as I found the djinni's ramblings about his antics throughout the ages (he often takes the form of one of his favourite masters, Ptolemy) frankly hilarious and Nathaniel a likeable enough character. Above all this is all completely original stuff, well told and truly entertaining. And that's what I liked best.
This should appeal to kids and adults, to those who are into fiction and fantasy alike. I can't wait for the second part, but I am pleased that the first is a self-contained story in it's own right. Superb and well worth the price.
on 29 September 2003
People are always comparing new children's books to Harry Potter, you can't go a week without hearing about 'The New successor to Harry Potter!'. I'm not going to. This book really speaks for itself as an original, and stands out from the crowd of recent childrens books riding on the coat-tails of HP.
'The Amulet of Samarkand' is set in a world not unlike our own. Time seems to have followed a slightly different path, and the London in the story bears marked differences to our own London. Britain in the time of 'The Amulet of Samarkand', is run not by politicians, but by magicians. Debates are not settled with words, but with duels.
The story revolves around a boy named Nathaniel, who was fostered to a magician as an apprentice when he was a young boy. Nathaniel endures a harsh childhood, slowly learning his masters profession. The pace of learning is far too slow for him, and he secretly begins to study more and more of his master's texts - and is able to summon Imps and Djinnis well before any other boy his age could.
When Nathaniel is humiliated by powerful magician Simon Lovelace - infront of a group of powerful minsters, he uses his talents to summon a powerful Djinni named Bartimaeus, in order to exact revenge.....and soon uncovers a murderous plot.....
The story is told jointly through following Nathaniel, and through the very humourous and somewhat sarcastic narration of the Djinni Bartimaeus. Barimaeus is an excellent narrator, injecting enough humour and light heartedness into what would otherwise be a very dark tale.
'The Amulet of Samarkand' is rated as a children's book, but it is one of those wonderful books that adults can read and enjoy too. As part of a trilogy, I'm certainly looking forward to the next installment.
Imagine a more Faustian "Harry Potter," which transforms neatly into a magical conspiracy thriller, complete with theft, high-speed chases, and assassination attempts -- the first book of the Bartimaeus trilogy, "The Amulet of Samarkand." It's well-written and the demonic lead is a treasure, but his human counterpart is a lot less endearing.
The djinn Bartimaeus is magically summoned by a young apprentice magician, Nathaniel, who orders him to steal the Amulet of Samarkand. He doesn't know much about it, but he knows that Simon Lovelace, the man who has it, has had someone killed to get it. He also has a personal motive -- Lovelace hurt and humiliated him, and his obnoxious, cowardly master didn't help him. Ever since, Simon has been plotting to get back at Lovelace.
Bartimaeus is peeved, but has to obey Nathaniel. It immediately becomes clear that the amulet is a lot more important than it looks -- and someone will kill to keep it a secret. Lovelace tracks the amulet to Nathaniel's house and attacks them, while Bartimaeus is captured and confined in the Tower of London. Despite their initial dislike, they must join forces, or Lovelace will use the amulet for an unspeakable crime.
An alternative universe with magicians as the ruling class is hardly a new idea. But Jonathan Stroud manages to make it fresher than before with a complicated British government ruled by magicians. Not to mention a rebel band of "commoners" (meaning: non-magic-users) who are sick of being treated like cattle. (That's something you won't see in "Harry Potter")
Stroud is also a writer who can handle just about any words he tries. He switches freely between first person (Bartimaeus) and third person (Nathaniel) narratives. The writing is pretty detailed; not too much, just enough to make it all come alive. What's more, the constant tussling between Nathaniel and Bartimaeus adds a note of much-needed character tension.
The biggest problem with "The Amulet of Samarkand" is that Nathaniel (who spends much of the book being rather demanding and snobby) took a VERY long time to grow on me, and even as he does good things, you get the feeling he's not a really good person. Bartimaeus is, however, an amazing character -- witty, sardonic, irreverent and wry, looking on with annoyed amusement at the rest of the scrambling cast, including his fellow djinn and demons.
"The Amulet of Samarkand" is a solid, genuinely suspenseful fantasy with a sparkling title character and a rather annoying supporting lead. Well-written, interesting, this is one of the really good fantasy books of the post-Potter boom.