Title: The Amulet of Samarkand (2003)
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Magic and Comedy
Release Date: 30th September 2003
Reviewed by: David
Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five and sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.”
Since I was a young child this book and the others in this series have been long time favourites of mine and I have read them all countless times. This book is like an old friend to me and yet every time I read it I find new things to enjoy that I missed on previous readings. Like a fine wine, it only gets better with time.
The story is centered on two main protagonists, Nathaniel and his djinni Bartimaeus, and their entwined fates as they attempt to bring about Nathaniel’s revenge. However, Nathaniel will learn that the world of magic is a cruel one, and that his over ambition can have serious, even fatal consequences for himself and those he loves!
Stroud’s novel is one which rode on the back of the magic mania produced in the wake of the Harry Potter phenomena. His reimagining of a magical society is incredibly unique and in many respects much darker than others in this genre. Stroud depicts an alternate reality in which London is the seat of a global empire ruled over by greedy and power hungry magicians, who receive al of their power from the spirits they command to do their bidding (albeit reluctantly. Whenever they get the opportunity they are more than happy to devour any magician who makes a mistake). Stroud therefore creates an incredibly refreshing magical world, which is as unique as it is fascinating.
Stroud is also a master when it comes to comedy. The character Bartimaeus is an old hand when it comes to the world of magic and magicians, having been summoned for thousands of years he has seen empires rise and fall and been involved in all kinds of escapades from incredibly menial tasks, to great battles. As a result he always exhibits an attitude, which is incredibly sarcastic and somewhat narcissistic. Stroud gets the balance of his personality perfect however, as he is never irritating or vain, rather he is witty and his comments often made me laugh out loud. Stroud uses footnotes to insert Bartimaeus comments to great effect. I was always on the lookout for the next footnote as every one was a little gem filled with humorous comments, references to Bartimeaus’ past escapades, or pieces of background lore to do with Stroud’s universe, which enrich the story greatly. There is also a brilliant chemistry between the sardonic Bartimaeus and the self-important ego obsessed youth Nathaniel, often the former berating the latter although not always, which always makes their dialogue flow effortlessly and entertainingly.
The main plot of the novel is a long and twisting one of nearly 500 pages and yet it is so well written that I was never bored and actually read it faster than many shorter books, simply because it was so entertaining. The narrative is full of action, drama and danger from start to finish with plenty of well executed plot twists, none of which felt clichéd or obvious. The ability to write such a long and yet constantly entertaining narrative is one that few writers have, and yet Stroud does so effortlessly.
Overall, I would consider this book to be one of the greatest pieces of young adult/children’s literature available. This book is one of my all time favourites and the only criticism I could give it, is that I could have done with another 100 pages of story as I never wanted it to end. This book with its dry humour and dark universe is a breath of fresh air in the fantasy community and one, which I feel, has really stood the test of time. I would recommend this to any fantasy reader of any age, and even to readers who just want a ripping yarn with some quality humour mixed in.
Be sure to check it out on Book Depository using the link here: Loisreadsbooks Book Depository
Until next time,