The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Goodreads: The Amulet of Samarkand
Series: Bartimaeus #1

Summary: Nathaniel, the young apprentice to a magician who thinks him an underachiever, summons the djinni Bartimaeus to carry out a task: steal the Amulet of Samarkand from the powerful magician Simon Lovelace.  The job is fairly straightforward for Bartimaeus, even though Lovelace’s home is protected by some impressive magical beings and barriers, but things escalate must faster and more dangerously than either Nathaniel or Bartimaeus could have guessed when they discover Lovelace may not be in possession of the amulet lawfully.  Against both of their wishes, they will have to work together if they want to survive.

Review:The Amulet of Samarkand is a dark book, depicting a world where magicians cannot do magic themselves but must summon djinni to be their slaves and where most of the magicians are corrupt, ambitious people with little thought for anyone but themselves.  Nathaniel, though only eleven, fits into the mold fairly well; he is an arrogant, unlikeable character and the reader may wonder why he or she is bothering to read a story about someone so disagreeable.  Can one sincerely hope that he succeeds? Bartimaeus is little better; years of servitude have made him bitter and sarcastic and interested mainly in personal survival and getting revenge on the magicians who boss him around.  Frankly, only the assurance of a friend that the two become more sympathetic kept me reading with any hope.  She was right, however, and I am looking forward to becoming more invested in the characters in the next book.

The plot is exciting and moves forward at a decent rate.  New developments crop up all the time to keep readers on their toes.  Bartimaeus uses footnotes in the chapters that he narrates to add extra information that readers might find of interest without interrupting the flow of the story.  (These footnotes are probably one of the better-known aspects of the book.)  Who narrates the other chapters is a mystery.  They are told from a third person omniscient point of view, but the switch between this and the first person narration is somewhat discomfiting.  The book cannot be understood as Bartimaeus’s story, written for posterity or whatnot, but neither can it be accepted simply as a story.  Stroud would have done better to have Nathaniel narrate the parts that include him but not Bartimaeus.

Overall, The Amulet of Samarkand was a good read.  It presents a nice contrast to works that glorify magic (and even pokes fun at the idea that magicians’ apprentices would all be shipped off to a boarding school together!)  Its strength lies in that it is different and critical and unafraid to present a world that is gritty.  Fantasy fans will enjoy it.

Published: 2003

Awards:  (Source: Wikipedia)

  • A 2004 ALA Notable Book
  • A 2004 Best Books for Young Adults Top Ten Pick
  • A Bank Street 2004 Best Book of the Year
  • A Booklist Top 10 Fantasy Book for Youth 2004

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