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Book Review – The Amulet of Samarkand by Johnathan Stroud

June 16th, 2016 No comments

Cover: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan StroudMagicians walk the streets of London, summoning demons to assist them in their endeavors as they rule benignly over the commoners of London…or at least this is what the young boy Nathaniel is told when he is thrust into the care of the middling magician Arthur Underwood as Underwood’s apprentice.

The djinn Bartimaeus has a different take on the situation. With sarcastic wit aplenty, he describes the poor plight of demons who are forced into slavery at the behest of their masters who use their power to cower the commoners into submission.

The paths of Nathaniel and Bartimaeus cross when Nathaniel, seething from a public embarrassment at the hands of hotshot magician Simon Lovelace, summons Bartimaeus in an effort to seek revenge. Nathaniel order Bartimaeus to steal a treasured token from Lovelace, the Amulet of Samarkand. Little does the boy know that this act will drag him and his skeptical djinn into a massive and dangerous conspiracy that reaches into the highest levels of the government.

Author Johnathan Stroud gives us a fresh new magical taste of London, but not all is what it seems. The magicians who proclaim their greatness are greedy, paranoid, and arrogant. The spirits they summon come in a variety of flavors, but Bartimaeus is certainly more than the wisecracking, cruel, and viscous demon that Nathaniel assumes him to be.

Speaking of Bartimaeus, he is now officially my favorite demon of all time. His sharp wit threads the book with refreshing humor, adding an extra shine to his adventures with the taciturn and often angry Nathaniel. Stroud performs a unique dance, smattering Bartimaeus’s first person narratives with a steady stream of footnotes. They take a little getting used to at first, but then they become a natural part of Bartimaeus’s story.

Though one could argue that this book is written for a YA or even Middle Grade audience (though the vocabulary seems far more advanced than most middle graders could handle), it will easily delight adults as well. Nathaniel is a complicated character who hovers right on the line between hero and anti-hero. A part of me always wanted to root for the young boy who felt so stepped upon, but it was also easy enough to see how dangerous he could become as he gave into his anger, his ambition, and his pride. Likewise, Bartimaeus is far more complicated than he or Nathaniel are willing to admit. Beneath his jokes and jabs is a spirit who has seen civilizations come and go throughout the ages, and he doesn’t hold out much hope for London.

The Amulet of Samarkand is a fascinating book filled with multi-layered characters, a simmering plot, hilarious wit, and some deep questions to consider for the next book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, the Golem’s Eye.

Five stars!