The Amulet of Samarkand, Bartimaeus #1
By: Jonathan Stroud
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
I recently was wildly impressed by Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co series. If you haven’t read that, you are missing out on some Harry Potter sized fun. Go now.
Fueled by the feeling I’d discovered something brilliant and new, I wasted no time jumping into Bartimaeus, the other (earlier) series by Jonathan Stroud.
I should have known book lightening wasn’t going to strike me twice.
Actually, that was a little harsh. The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus, #1) was actually quite good. It’s nothing like Lockwood & Co, however, and therefore Bartimaeus has to learn to live in the shadow cast by its hero-sized big brother.
Here’s what was great about The Amulet of Samarkand: Picture alternative modern London, ruled by magicians who get their power from the ancient demons they enslave…djinn, for example. England is the European superpower because they have the strongest magicians. Government is ruled by magicians who live in luxury, while the commoners are forced to labor and live as the lower caste constantly in fear of drawing the ire of the ruling class.
The story is about Nathaniel, magician apprentice, besotted by the glory awaiting him as a magician and oblivious to the plight and dissatisfaction of the populace, more skilled at magic than a 12-year-old should be, and unwilling to wait for his training to be complete before he decides to summon his very own djinni. He’s too young to know how stupid he is, and–in the immortal words of Forrest Gump–stupid is as stupid does. Magical hi-jinks ensue. Disaster looms. Still, despite the odds, in the end kid becomes hero.
See? Fun stuff.
Here’s what I didn’t like: This is a cool setting for a great story about a privileged who, realizing the injustice in his world, comes to the aid of those less fortunate to help them overthrow the oppressive regime. But…
That doesn’t happen.
Instead, the power-hungry and ignorant kid stays power-hungry and ignorant. He makes bad choices in the name of gaining power, and in the end he gets what he wants. The oppressed remain oppressed, and the powerful stay in power. This is a really hard main character to root for.
My hope is that this is a slow arc, and that over the course of the next couple of books, ignorance becomes understanding and Nathaniel becomes a real hero.
So, fingers crossed.
I liked it enough to keep reading, and I bet you will too. If this thing ends like I hope it will, it could be great.