Saturday, April 5, 2008

An apprentice, a djinni, and a powerful amulet

In an alternate version of England in which the government is composed of powerful magicians, a 5-year-old boy is sold off to become an apprentice. His birth name is Nathaniel, but that, too, must be stripped from him along with everything else from his former life. From now until the time he is twelve and chooses his new name, he will simply be called "Boy" by his master. Birth names hold power; his must be forgotten. Nathaniel's new master, Arthur Underwood, is not a kind man - but his wife is, and she takes Nathanial under her wing and treats him with kindness, even calling him by his birth name, and Nathanial comes to adore her and work hard for her approval.

We skip forward in time, away from the third-person narration about Nathaniel, to a moment in which a young boy of twelve or so is calling up a dangerous entity - a demon? a djinni? - it isn't clear. This part of the story is told from the entity's point of view. His name is Bartimaeus, and while Nathaniel's part of the story is certainly interesting, the book crackles with life when Bartimaeus speaks. He is not pleased at finding himself summoned - by a scrawny wet-behind-the-ears boy, no less, and is even less pleased by the task he is set: to steal the amulet of Samarkand from the very well-protected home of a powerful magician.

And so the story alternates between the third-person passages about Nathaniel and the first-person narration of Bartimaeus. Gradually the time gap between the storyline merges, and the plot is off and running, whisking the reader along with it. The theft of the amulet begins a chain of events that will dramatically change Nathanial's life - and his impatience, impulsive nature and high-handedness ensure that if anything can go wrong for him, it likely will. With Bartimaeus as his unlikely (and unwilling) servant, we are in for a bumpy ride.

Nathaniel is not always a terribly likable character, and he came close to losing my sympathy for him. He was self-centered, arrogant, hot-tempered and impatient. However, he is a believable character and, considering his upbringing, behaves exactly the way one might expect - and actually does harbor a few admirable qualities, all things considered. But Bartimaeus had me from the very beginning. His wry sense of humor, wit, charm and intelligence make for an engaging, often hilarious narrator, particularly when read aloud by Simon Jones, whose storytelling skills enhance the narrative considerably.

This book is on my list for the Mythopoeic Challenge (along with the rest of the trilogy), and it is easy to see why it is among the books on the Mythopoeic Award list. I look forward to reading about the further misadventures of Bartimaeus.

Books in the Bartimaeus Trilogy:
1. The Amulet of Samarkand
2. The Golem's Eye
3. Ptolemy's Gate

The Amulet of Samarkand
(#1 in The Bartimaeus Trilogy) by Jonathan Stroud; narrated by Simon Jones (Listening Library, 2007)

Other blog reviews:
My Book Reviews
Reading Rebels
Someone's Read It Already

16 comments:

  1. I'm pretty sure I would like this. I even borrowed it from the library at one point but I just never got around to finding the time to read it!

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  2. I'm finding that's an unexpected benefit to participating in these challenges - it pushes me to finally get around to books I've been meaning to read for a long time!

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  3. I read this trilogy not long ago and Jonathan Strouds books went up to the top of the list of YA authors that I like A LOT. (along with Cornelia Funke)

    I wish there was even more with Bartimaeus!! What a great character with a supurb personality!! I loved him!

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  4. I totally agree with you, Deslily - I was reading this with a sort of "where have you been all my life?" feeling. I'm glad to hear the rest of the trilogy didn't disappoint! Have you read other books of Stroud's?

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  5. I am trying not to read too much of your review as I am going to read the three books in this series this year. LIke you I have been meaning to read these for ages and the Mythopoeic Challenge is helping push me into it sooner.

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  6. I do the same thing when I know it's a book I'm planning to read. I love knowing very little about the book if I already know I want to read it! I'll be looking forward to hearing what you think of the trilogy when you get to it.

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  7. I recently sent for Buried Fires by Stroud.. it's in that pile.. you know.. the tbr one...heh.

    I wouldn't mind in the least if he did another set of books with Bartimaeus though!.. after all someone else could conjour him up!

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  8. I'll be interested to hear what you think of it when you (eventually) get around to it. And it's nice to think that there could possibly be additional Bartimaeus books one day!

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  9. I've had this series on my TBR list for way too long. I really need to put them on a challenge list so I can get them read. Very nice review, Darla.

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  10. I don't know why I keep putting off reading this series...I'm positive that I'll love them. Thanks for the great review :)

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  11. Thanks, Booklogged - I think you'll enjoy them (at least the first one - I'm assuming the others will be good, too!).

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  12. And thanks, Nymeth! I think you'd find this a lot of fun. I imagine it's not that you've been putting them off so much as other books have been getting in the way (at least that's how it is for me!).

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  13. I have heard such fabulous things about this. I guess it's time for me to jump on the train. Great review.

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  14. Thanks, Raych - It was a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the trilogy continues. I hope you'll enjoy it!

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  15. I'll need to read this soon, it's been sitting there on the shelf for too long!!

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  16. Valentina - I have so many books that have been sitting on the shelf for way too long, too. I guess it's better than not having anything there, but it does get a bit overwhelming at times! I'm sure you'll enjoy this one whenever you get to it.

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