The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus #1) by Jonathan Stroud

The Amulet of Samarkand is set in a world where Magicians rule in public, but not by their own arcane power. All of their power comes from that of the demons they summon (in degree of potency: imp, foliot, djinni, afrit, marid) who they force to carry out their tasks – something that they don’t admit to commoners for fear of rebellion. This novel is set in London and follows two characters: Nathaniel, a talented and ambitious 12 year-old magician, and Bartimaes, the demon that he summons to perform a deadly task.

An intriguing and ambitious plot
The plot of this book isn’t all nice and cozy like the Harry Potter series has a tendency to be. Nathaniel doesn’t have any friends, isn’t a secret prophetic master of all demons, and he doesn’t have a wise mentor to help him along. What he does have is a plot for revenge upon someone who humiliated him in public and the ability to summon a powerful demon to carry out that revenge. I was really surprised when I initially read this book, simply because the main character, Nathaniel, seems to have a lot of malice in him that’s fueling his rage. Eventually, Nathaniel’s disposition is explained and it makes a lot of sense.

One of the best fantasy duos the genre has seen in many years
Bartimaeus is one of my favorite main characters in all of fantasy, and probably my favorite in the genre of YA fantasy. He’s witty, intelligent, and he always has something to say. He ranks up there with Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, Dumbledore from Harry Potter and Moiraine from Wheel of Time in how much I enjoy reading about him. Granted, he’s nothing like those three in that he’s not kind and nurturing and he will rarely lend a helping hand unless forced to (in fact he’s quite the opposite). If given the chance, Bartimaes would devour anyone who dared to summon him.

Initially, I thought that Nathaniel was just a whiny little kid who thinks he’s been wronged and does something stupid as a way of getting even. However, when I learned about his past in which he was seriously wronged and treated unfairly, I felt for him. He’s human and he’s acting like humans do. He’s flawed, yes, but realistically flawed characters are something that I appreciate when reading a novel. Nathaniel is young and impressionable, and the juxtaposition of him with a 4,000 year old djinni demon is just one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.

I have nothing bad to say about this novel
While this novel isn’t a perfect five stars, it’s very close. There were scenes in here that made me laugh out loud due to their hilarity, and other scenes that really made me empathize with Nathaniel, simply because he’s had to go through so much at a young age. Nathaniel is definitely a character that you will pity – but later in the book he will stun you with his bravery and undeniable will. In the next two books (reviews coming soon), I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how he progresses as a character.

A promising start to an epic series
The novel ends pretty perfectly, leaving space for the story to continue without its scope being totally overwhelming. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the sequel. I will not spoil to much, but suffice it to say that we’ll definitely be seeing more of Nathaniel and Bartimaeus in the next two books.

While Nathaniel may be the one that summoned Bartimaeus, he’s certainly not his master. Bartimaeus of Uruk, Djinni of the 4th level, has no master aside from himself (well, technically he does, but he likes to think otherwise). Throughout the novel he generously provides readers with his thoughts in the form of footnotes, all of which are exceedingly insightful (and often hilarious). Something that’s not seen a lot in fantasy novels is humor, which is truly unfortunate because it always adds a lot to a novel. The fact that this novel has a lot of it is what makes it so enjoyable for me.

Why should you read this book?
If you enjoy a lot of humor in your fantasy, then this is definitely a book to pick up. Don’t let the fact that it’s YA stand in your way because there’s something that even fans of epic fantasy will love in this story. It combines political intrigue, an overcoming of obstacles, and a fresh new face in fantasy.

About James Starke

James Starke
James is 21 years old and has been described as many things in life – pop music lover, book nerd, movie geek, cookie nommer, bookshelf filler, tortured writer, tech dork, television watcher, webcomic addict, fierce supermodel, crazy cat lady, musical fanatic, a loyal Hufflepuff, GLEEk to the Nth degree, pizza eater, future librarian, a horrible procrastinator, Poké-freak, eyeglass wearer, a lover of the arts, and a zombie unicorn that sparkles in the night (well, actually that might’ve just been once). He prefers to describe himself as “a man of odd enthusiasms.”

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One comment

  1. I loved this whole trilogy, thank you for turning me on to it!

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