Science fiction and fantasy
Bartimaeus: The Amulet Of Samarkand
by Jonathan Stroud
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
If you like this, try:Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Supervillians. They get younger every year.
Review © Ros Jackson
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