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The Amulet of Samarkand, Book 1 (Bartimaeus ) Hardcover – September 30, 2003
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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. In British author Jonathan Stroud's excellent novel, the first of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, the story switches back and forth from Bartimaeus's first-person point of view to third-person narrative about Nathaniel. Here's the best part: Bartimaeus is absolutely hilarious, with a wit that snaps, crackles, and pops. His dryly sarcastic, irreverent asides spill out into copious footnotes that no one in his or her right mind would skip over. A sophisticated, suspenseful, brilliantly crafted, dead-funny book that will leave readers anxious for more. (Ages 11 to adult) --Karin Snelson
Gr. 6-12. Picture an alternative London where the Parliament, composed of powerful magicians, rules the British empire. When five-year-old Nathaniel's parents sell him to the government to become a magician's apprentice, the boy is stripped of his past and is given over for training to a grim, mid-level magician from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Over the next seven years, Nathaniel studies the lessons given by his cold master, but in secret he delves into advanced magic books, gaining skill beyond his years: he summons a djinn to steal the powerful amulet of Samarkand. Inspired by a desire for revenge, this bold act leads to danger and death. Nathaniel's third-person narrative alternates with the first-person telling of Bartimaeus the djinn, a memorable and highly entertaining character. Rude, flippant, and cocky, his voice reflects the injustice of his millennia of service to powerful magicians who have summoned him to do their capricious bidding. His informative and sometimes humorous asides appear in footnotes, an unusual device in fiction, but one that serves a useful purpose here. Stroud creates a convincingly detailed secondary world with echoes of actual history and folklore. The strong narrative thrust of the adventure will keep readers involved, but the trouble that is afoot in London extends beyond the exploits here. The unresolved mysteries will be more fully explored in the next two volumes of the trilogy. One of the liveliest and most inventive fantasies of recent years. Carolyn Phelan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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In just one night, I read half the book, finishing it a couple of days later. It is definitely a recommendable book that I was a little surprised belonged to the young adult fiction category.
The main character is a young magic apprentice that has a penchant for getting himself in troubles much more perilous than what would be normal for his age. The second main character is the djinni he summons, a sarcastic, ancient "demon" that is the primary source of humor in the book, especially with his condescending footnotes explaining all kinds of magical stuff to the reader with a very biased tone.
So if you are in the mood for a quick read of light fantasy, ignore the hideous cover of this book and delve in its rich storytelling.
Firstly, we do have a young magician lad in a coming of age story, but many factors are flipped on their heads. Nathaniel is not a hero, but rather an anti-hero; a cold, amoral, power-hungry, vindictive, vengeful brat of an anti-hero...And that's how I like my fantasy heroes. His character was just so interesting.
The other protagonist is Bartimaeus, a spirtual entity called a Djinni who has been bound to serve Nathaniel by powerful magic. His chapters are told in the first-person, with lots of witty commentary, sarcastic humor, and footnotes detailing extra thoughts he's having during the action. If you like a dash of acidic mockery that cuts to the bone and other wit, you'll be constantly entertained.
What else? The plot was good, given a fairly good premise and ending with a battle. I can't recall being bored and wishing the story would pick up. The characters were great, the dialogue was great, the action was great, the narrative was great, etc.
However, there were a few iffy issues I had with this book, like the magic system. Is it ever explained how it works? Not very clearly. It seems to rely chiefly on summoning spirits of various powers and using them as servants, though there are small enchantments that can be performed by hand, such as Detonations or Inferno. I would have liked more explanation about magic (which wouldn't have been hard given all the time Nat spends learning about it offscreen), and less reliance on summoning.
Also, the order of the chapters can get a little confusing. They aren't in chronological order. It starts in the heat of the action, and then the chapters switch between the Bartimaeus chapters that continue in the present, and chapters from the past that give the backstory on Nathaniel, and that trend continues until the entire backstory is told and the two narratives meet. The switching between first person and third person is also a little strange. While a seasoned reader probably won't be confused, it might be inconvenient to the casual one.
In conclusion, this rather gritty reverse of Harry Potter is an excellent read, definitely recommended, especially to those who like variants on common fantasy elements, with more morally ambiguous characters.
Pleasantly surprised, the book lost none of it's charm, decidedly better than I had recalled. The dual characters offer so much more together, turning your traditional modern fantasy into a rather unique story. Bartimaeus` sense of humor and entitled wisdom contrast the core of an expected protagonist. The story itself is both adventurous and ominous, forever building furious emotion in the direction of key characters and concepts.
All together it is well conceived, composed, and executed in a manor likely to entertain at any age.