Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Bartimaeus: The Amulet Of Samarkand

by Jonathan Stroud

In an alternative version of London, magicians rule thanks to their ability to summon magical creatures and bend them to their will. Afrits, marids, imps, djinn and other supernatural beings are the engines that run Britain, doing all the grunt work, spying, and guarding for an elite group of magicians whilst ordinary people have very little power.

Bartimaeus is an ancient djinni with a sharp wit who sits somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy of otherworldly beings. When Nathaniel, a young magician's apprentice, summons him he's annoyed at the intrusion and ready to take revenge. Nathaniel tasks Bartimaeus with stealing a powerful amulet from a master magician, and Bartimaeus has no choice but to obey. However, Bartimaeus is a wry and amusing trickster who manages to get one over on Nathaniel, the vengeful child prodigy. The pair are matched in an uneasy balance of power that teeters on a knife edge.

As a djinni, Bartimaeus has no fixed form. This makes him much harder to relate to when we read the story through his first person narrative. Fortunately he is clever, mouthy, sarcastic, old, cynical, pragmatic, and selfish, and that personality mixture makes him highly entertaining and compelling. He's a great foil for Nathaniel, who is far more uptight. Nathaniel is clever, proud, determined, and easily riled, which makes him quite volatile. Nathaniel's side of the story is told in third person.

The setting may be a kind of fantasy, based on a London that's the heart of an empire. Deep down it's all about class and power, and the idea of a Britain that never quite existed and might have been nice for the few people born in the right circumstances. Nathaniel is just about one of those people, in spite of the trouble he has from his disdainful master, Mr Underwood, who isn't keen on children and takes him on begrudgingly. Underwood has no idea of Nathaniel's capabilities and pays him very little attention, so the boy has a lonely existence with only Mrs Underwood showing him any affection whatsoever.

The Amulet of Samarkand conforms to a number of coming-of-age-story tropes, from the main character without parental supervision to the growing realisation of his own place in the world to the struggle against a strong villain. But the journey is a lot of fun thanks to Bartimaeus's unique voice, and the unusual world Jonathan Stroud has built on the template of a magic-drenched London. It's an exciting story which is well-plotted so there's always something novel around the next corner. The two main characters start off as antagonists, but I couldn't help rooting for them both to succeed, even if it takes several novels for them to finally get along.

29th April 2016

Book Details

Year: 2003

Categories: Books

  YA     Fantasy
    Male Protagonist  

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