Skip to main content

The Amulet of Samarkand: Bartimaeus Trilogy #1

Review

The Amulet of Samarkand: Bartimaeus Trilogy #1

There's no getting around it: there's a glut of fantasy novels on the shelves in the teen section of your local bookstore or library. Many offer enticing covers and great descriptions of daring battles and powerful sorcerers. But if you're looking for some good --- no, not just good --- great fantasy, the only book you need to go home with the next time you shop or visit the library is THE AMULET OF SAMARKAND, the first book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.

The best fantasy is all about creating worlds and laying down the rules of those worlds, and Stroud does both with the skill of a master. The world is run by a wizard aristocracy who bear the familiar hallmarks of corruption and class segregation that some find apparent in the governments of the real world. The rules are simple: the wizard with the most power runs the show. And that's what this book is about: power.

The narration of the book is split between Nathaniel --- a 10-year-old wizard whose thirst for revenge against a magician who humiliated him brings him into contact with powers he's not prepared to harness --- and Bartimaeus, a millennia-old djinn summoned by the boy as a means of exacting that horrible vengeance. At the book's onset, Nathaniel plays apprentice to an effete wizard whose milquetoast standing in the government prevents him from speaking up for the boy when Simon Lovelace, a rival wizard, embarrasses Nathaniel at a social function. Blind with anger, Nathaniel accelerates his magical training on his own and invokes Bartimaeus, commanding the djinn to steal the mystical Amulet of Samarkand in an effort to get back at Lovelace. But what neither Nathaniel nor his unwilling servant realize is that a deeper plot surrounding the amulet is already afoot, and before long they find themselves ensnared in a deadly scheme to wipe out the government so a single diabolical wizard can seize power.

Stroud lays out a compelling story that offers more than a casual comment on the pitfalls of absolute power and the consequences of those who seek revenge in anger. While the narrative is always fast paced and gripping, the standout portions of the book are the Bartimaeus sections, told in the first person and littered with razor-sharp examples of the feisty djinn's wit. (Although very funny, the footnotes to Bartimaeus's narration get a little tiring after a while.) Stroud employs a rich and flowing use of language with a steadfast and on-target command of storytelling to create a truly riveting novel. Readers will enjoy both the fully-realized characters (have I mentioned that Bartimaeus is hilarious?) and the twisting plot that makes this a "read-in-one-sitting" book.

Reviewed by Brian Farrey on May 3, 2004

The Amulet of Samarkand: Bartimaeus Trilogy #1
by Jonathan Stroud

  • Publication Date: May 3, 2004
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion Book CH
  • ISBN-10: 0786852550
  • ISBN-13: 9780786852550