This week the lovely Katie from I Will Write With It has stopped by to review a classic comedic fantasy that is now of course being added to my TBR! Thanks Katie :D.
The Amulet of Samarkand is the first of four books by Jonathan Stroud featuring Bartimaeus. I would encourage anyone to give them a go because Bartimaeus is an excellent character. He is a ‘djinni’ with a wicked sense of humour and if you lean towards the dry and sarcastic in your comedy then you are on to a winner. There are two stand-out features in Stroud’s writing. Firstly, the narrative switches between first person (from the point of view of Bartimaeus) and third person, which follows the young magician who summons him. Secondly, Stroud uses footnotes in Bartimaeus’ chapters to add funny extras to the story. It was these that kept me reading more than the actual story which was, admittedly, less memorable.
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud (Bartimaeus Sequence #1)
Published by Disney Hyperion on Sept. 30th, 2003
Genres: Fantasy, YA
Page Length: 462 pages
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Nathanial is a young magician’s apprentice who lives under the rule of his strict and miserable master. Tired of the slow pace of his magical lessons and his master’s lack of faith in him Nathanial teaches himself magic far beyond his years. He secretly summons Bartimaeus, a 5,000 year old djinni with a reputation for trouble and finds that events fast spiral of his control. Soon he and the grudging Bartimaeus are caught up in a world of political corruption, magical intrigue, rebellion and murder.
- The most important thing about The Amulet of Samarkand is Bartimaeus himself. He is thoroughly grumpy about being summoned by a ten-year-old boy and not shy about making it known. His constant aloofness, catty remarks and long standing feuds with other magical creatures provide excellent entertainment. The Amulet of Samarkand is genuinely funny, which is more than can be said for a lot of fantasy fiction.
- The use of footnotes was inspired. Bartimaeus tells us all sorts of things about his life that are not central to the story but were definitely central to my enjoyment of the book.
- As well as Bartimaeus himself, we meet a host of other magical creatures. They are all cheeky and funny in their own way. I like fantasy worlds where there is a hierarchy of creatures who all squabble amongst each other.
- The story in set in London and Stroud’s description of the city, its landmarks and back streets, is charming.
- The action is explosive. Stroud does not shy away from creating a right royal mess as Nathanial falls deeper into trouble. Where another author might stop, Stroud ploughs on making things worse and worse for his characters. It reminds me of that Micky Mouse sketch in Fantasia where he bewitches the brooms and all hell breaks loose (if you haven’t seen Fantasia, we can’t be friends).
- The plot is not as strong as the imagination behind the magical creatures, which are the stars of the show. There was plenty of action and the finale was OK, but the magic didn’t give me that tingly excited feeling and I wasn’t on tenterhooks to find out what would happen next. In the main, I was just keen to get back to Bartimaeus’ chapters ASAP.
- The human relationships weren’t as rich as those between the magical creatures and I found several of the characters flat. The baddies were bad but in a fairly bog-standard way.
- Nathanial is only ten years old and for me that meant he lacked depth. As the story progresses he becomes less likeable and I found I didn’t care that much what happened to him. If I’m honest, I started to find him pretty annoying.
I have many more good things to say about Bartimaeus than bad. I haven’t enjoyed a book this much this for a long time. Funny, witty, magical and full of adventure, it’s well worth getting lost in.
Have you read this one? What did you think? Are you excited for it if you haven’t gotten to it yet?
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
© 2015, Anya. All rights reserved.