Monday, March 05, 2007

The Amulet of Samarkand

Stroud, Jonathan. 2003. The Bartimaeus Trilogy Book One: The Amulet of Samarkand.

Like yesterday's review of MONSTER BLOOD TATTOO BOOK ONE: FOUNDLING, today's book has a long title, is the first in a fantasy series, and was checked out by me this past Valentine's day. The similarities end there. Although I began reading it--what I'll refer to from here on out as THE AMULET--a week later than FOUNDLING, I finished it much faster. The reason? I didn't want to put it down. Told from two perspectives, THE AMULET is the story of a young magician's apprentice, Nathaniel (aka John Mandrake), and the powerful and dangerous djinni he summons, Bartimaeus. Set in an alternative-world, modern-day London, the reader becomes enchanted by a world (or country) ruled by magicians. Since the powerful magician Gladstone of the nineteenth century, the British government (and to some extent the world) has been under the control and leadership of the elite magicians. Gone are the days where commoners had any say in anything whatsoever. To be a magician, to have power, that is more than most can hope for. Commoners can sell their children to the government who wipes the slate clean so to speak and gives them an opportunity to become apprentices. Magicians always need nameless apprentices. And if they do well in their tasks and training, they receive a name on their twelfth birthday. Nathaniel hasn't reached his twelfth birthday and his birth name is not supposed to be known--let alone used on a daily basis--but he is apprenticed to a rather sloppy, clumsy sort of magician, Mr. Underwood. Nathaniel realizes as he is growing up that he can learn better from books than he can by listening to his master who barely pays him attention or shows him any respect. Knowing that he can be better than his master, Nathaniel begins to get a little bit cocky. Hence the summoning of Bartimaeus when he isn't supposed to have even LEARNED how to summon anything yet...let alone such a powerful, dangerous, unpredictibable demon-creature.

Here is how the book is described on the back cover:
A modern-day London
run by magicians.
A stolen amulet.
A tale of intrigue,
murder, and revenge.
The first in the
Bartimaeus trilogy.

With the summoning of Bartimaeus, the adventures of a lifetime begin for our young hero. As the story unfolds, the reader learns of the djinni's mission (Nathaniel's commands), Nathaniel's motivations and intentions, and the dangerous, unforeseen consequences of one's actions. Along the way, Bartimaeus will entertain you with his witty footnotes or asides...and Nathaniel will charm you with his vulnerability and generally likeable character. It's a predictible story...boy accidentally uncovers an evil plot and must almost single-handedly save the day and the world...but it's done in such a WONDERFUL way...that you end up hooked almost from the very beginning.

Here are just a few snippets from Bartimaeus...
I hate the taste of mud. It is no fit thing for a being of air and fire. The cloying weight of earth oppresses me greatly whenever I come into contact with it. That is why I am choosy about my incarnations. Birds, good. Insects, good. Bats, okay. Things that run fast are fine. Tree dwellers are even better. Subterranean things, not good. Moles, bad. (12)

Before long I was on my last wings. The constant drag of supporting my physical form was wearing me down and using up precious energy. So I decided to adopt a different plan--to find a place where the Amulet's pulse would be drowned out by other magical emissions. It was time to mingle with the many-headed multitude, the great unwashed: in other words, with people. I was that desperate. (37)

The whole night had been a wearisome and often humiliating business. I had repeatedly lurked, loitered, and fled, in that order, through half the postal districts of London. I had been manhandled by a thirteen-year-old girl. I had taken shelter in a bin. And now, to cap it all, I was crouching on the roof of Westminster Abbey, pretending to be a gargoyle. Things don't get much worse than that. (75)


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