on June 28, 2004
What a book! This is the first one I've read in many years that had me laughing out loud in bursts of surprise. It reminds me pleasantly of Shrek 2. There are so many jokes lying in wait that you can hardly digest them all at once. The best part of the book is the sarcastic attitude it takes towards itself, and towards all fantasy/sci-fi books in general. For example, the back cover. The bold "summary" was so trite, babbling on about London, magicians, and promised drama, that I almost skipped over it. Then I saw the footnotes. After that I couldn't wait to read it. The author makes fun of the typical melodrama found in fantasy books (when a main character dies, the other characters neither retreat into typical dripping tears nor stony silence--both of which would make them less believable) by speaking through the saucy Bartimaeus. The alternating points of view were done amazingly well, making sure the reader didn't drown too much in either sarcasm or melancholy. Bartimaes is hilarious, but you can detect the kindness/soft side (shown in a few brief references to the Egyptian boy he once knew) he that he hides under his perpetual jokes. And Nathaniel is wonderfully complex. The result is absolutely brilliant. If you've read the usual fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl) and want something witty, clever, and just as original, read this book. I couldn't put it down. And the ending is marvelously thought out. The ending is solid, well-done, and satisfactory, but it leaves enough hints at what the sequel will be about. When it comes out, I will certainly buy it. This has truly been the best new book I've read in months. What a shame it doesn't receive the credit or fame it deserves! We hear more about books such as Eragon and Sabriel, which both lack real characters, than about The Amulet.
on August 26, 2004
This book oozes new talent. The author's voice isn't so bright and out there like Lemony Snicket but his voice is like Norah Jones, you note its softness but its powerful chords still speak.
The characters, are simply great. i'm not tired of good verses evil kids. But i won't slam down Nathaniel..in fact, i applaude him. he's real. he's smart and has wit past his required age and yet, he's tricky and shifty and thinks about only himself for his hide..with an exceptional few.
That, is the best. because the characters aren't like, "i'm on the team of good. that must mean i have to put others first!"
Bartimaeus, is funny too.
I don't have much to say except, its grip on you is..lazy. I spent my afternoon reading this book..because everytime i put it down, i thought, hm. well.. *grabs back book* its hold on you is lazy and almost invisble..and when you think you had enough, it pulls you back with the slightest of touch!
..plus it's long. i love books which i could spend hours reading for a day and still have a considerable amount to go the next.
...i am so glad that this book was on Chapters' junior booklover's contest or else i'd never quite buy it..cuz i'd be too lazy to..
on July 11, 2004
"The Amulet Of Samarkand" is a truly great novel, filled with adventure, mystery, mysticism, and... humor! Jonathan Stroud brings his magic touch to a modern-day London run by wizards and over-run by demons. "The Amulet Of Samarkand" is one of those books that truly takes you out of your skin and plants you right in the story, sort of like the "scrying discs" in his book, you feel you're there, going through everything with the characters. Every aspect of this book is great, but it's the little things that make a book great, and Jonathan Stroud clearly understands this.
Firstly, the footnotes inserted in the chapters narrated by Bartimaeus (the leading demon in the story) were genius, witty, and gut-wrenchingly funny. He gave Bartimaeus an attitude filled with wit and wisdom at the same time. What's so great about the characters in this book, is that it feels the two main characters reverse position. The boy, Nathaniel, is actually difficult to like, whereas the demon in the story becomes the most beloved personality.
I can't wait for the next book in "The Bartimaeus Trilogy". Keep it up Jonathan Stroud! You're books are great. I recommend this book for people of all ages (excluding perhaps young children). You won't be disappointed.
on July 3, 2004
First of all I want to say I love this book. Its very funny and interesting. I couldn't put it down. It switches back between magician apprentice Nathaniel and Bartimaeus a djinn. Bartimaeus adds footnotes which are funny and informative. The footnotes sometimes makes you forget what happened in the book, but not often. All you have to do is go back and reread like the last sentence to remember. The book is about Nathaniel a magicians apprentice who got humiliated by another magician for giving correct answers. He summons Bartimaeus a djinn with a big personality to help him get his revenge. When Bartimaes goes to steal from the magician who humiliated Nathaniel he encounters a few problems. Those problems get bigger and multiply as the story goes on. One little thing I didn't like about the book is how Nathaniel's master's wife is supposed to be all kind and sweet when really she's not much better than her husband. Other than that this book rocks, and should totally get the 5 stars I gave it.
on June 19, 2004
Some of the most entertaining, original, and exciting books being published today are not by the John Grishams and the Tom Clanceys of the literary world but instead a new crop under the mantle of, "Young Adult Books". Authors like Cornelia Funke and Christopher Paolini are writing original and magical worlds that are being devoured by as many adults as young people who are looking for more beyond Harry Potter.
English writer Jonathan Stroud adds what I feel is one of the very best, including the Potter canon, with the first of a planned trilogy, 'The Amulet of Samarkand'.
Young apprentice Nathanial is frustrated by the meager teachings from his C level magician guardian. His own studies have, in his mind, already surpassed what his master knows. After a humiliating experience at the hands of a pompous colleague of his master, Nathanial plans revenge with the help of Bartimaeus, a five thousand year old djinni. Telling the story from both their perspectives as the situation careens wildly out of control, Stroud creates a wonderfully original page turner. Bartimeaus is a fanatstic character who illustrates many finer points with the help of hilarious footnotes. It's too bad the series is only a trilogy for this is a franchise I'd love to see go beyond three books.
on June 1, 2004
The main human character, Nathaniel, is not likable. Not one bit. And its about time to see that in a novel. He's been mistreated most, if not all, his entire life and someone like that wouldn't be likable. Even at the end he's not likable and I found that very refreshing. You don't change people in the space of one novel. It takes time. Time that hopefully Stroud will give him. Nathaniel has potential to go either way, bad or good, and that is quite fascinating. I want to know how Nathaniel is going to turn out and how he is going to get there. It's about time a character is allowed to realistically struggle between good and bad in a novel instead of forcing them to be good from the get go.
Bartimaeus was a brilliant character. His praises have been sung by the rest of the reviewers and I have nothing else to add in regards to him. He was just awesome. And the footnotes were great.
All in all it was a great novel and Nathaniel was perfect. I can't wait to see if he ever starts to question what he is being told to believe. Book two couldn't get here fast enough.
on May 29, 2004
"The sulphur cloud contracted into a thick column of smoke that vomited forth thin tendrils ... There was a barely perceptible pause. Then two yellow staring eyes materialized in the heart of the smoke.
Hey, it was his first time. I wanted to scare him."
The 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus resents being under the power of human magicians, especially when the one who summons him is a mere stripling of a boy. Bartimaeus expects to have to do nothing more taxing than a few simple illusions for Nathaniel But Nathaniel has talent way beyond his years and has something considerably more dangerous in mind: revenge against a magician who made him look a fool. Nathaniel sends Bartimaeus off to steal the powerful Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a master magician of unrivalled ruthlessness and ambition who will do ANYTHING to achieve his ends. And so both djinni and apprentice boy wizard are soon caught up in a terrifying flood of magical intrigue, murder and rebellion that makes for a thrilling read for fantasy-lovers of all ages.
The excerpt starting this review comes on the second page, and the whole of the first page is descriptive, much like the first paragraph of the excerpt, so it's only when you read the last sentence that you realise this is a first-person account. It's an electrifying introduction to Bartimaeus and sets the scene for the hair-raising and hilarious things that will occur whenever the djinni is around.
However, when the story moves to Nathaniel's viewpoint, Jonathan Stroud wisely adopts third person rather than trying to imitate the language of a modern young teenager. I found the change a little disconcerting at first but soon became comfortable with it. Sometimes when Stroud makes a switch in viewpoint readers are returned to the beginning of the scene they have just read, which makes for some fascinating contrasts. It's also probably why the book is rather long, though it never seems so.
The Amulet of Samarkand is a stunning read (it knocks any of the Harry Potter books into a cocked hat) and I can't wait to meet Bartimaeus again. He, rather than young Nathaniel, is the "star" of Stroud's story.
on May 26, 2004
This is one of the funniest books I've ever read. From the very beginning you can tell this is not one of those standard issue sword-and-sorcery novels with the Dark Lord, the Quest, the many races (elves, dwarves, orcs, etc), the young hero, the Old Wizard, etc. So you won't be stuck with a Tolkien wannabe. On the other hand, despite having an eleven year old magician's apprentice as "hero", it's most definitively NOT a Harry Potter clone. For starters, little Nathaniel's motivation is pure and simple revenge, and that doesn't change by book's end.
In this modern day version of London, magicians are an aristocracy (although, since British magicians aren't allowed to have children to avoid dynastic conflicts, I guess oligarchy would be a better name) that rules Britain and its Empire, and commoners without magic have no political power. Taken from his family when he was five, Nathaniel has no friends and his whole world is his Master (a pathetic midlevel government magician), his master's wife, and his teachers. He grows up to be a very intelligent and gifted magician, with a relatively good heart, but also very arrogant and vengeful. So when the powerful magician Simon Lovelace beats and humiliates him in public while his cowardly master just watches, he begins his quest to get even.
It takes him a year but without any help he finally masters a very complex spell that allows him to summon a powerful djinni named Bartimaeus to steal the Amulet of Samarkand, Lovelace's most priced possession. Because in this world the only so called "power" that magicians have is their ability to summon and enslave spirits that do all the magical work for them. And believe me, the spirits don't like it one bit. And here is where the book begins, when we get our first look at Bartimaeus, who is one of the funniest characters you'll ever meet. Since all the chapters from his point of view are written in the first person, we get the full blast of his wit, which is considerable. It's the first time I've seen footnotes used with such a great effect. In them Bartimaeus makes little commentaries and explanations about what is going on, which is an excellent way to provide information about the back-story without interrupting the flow of the narration, and avoids boring the reader. Believe me, the footnotes are the best part of the book.
So Bartimaeus goes and reluctantly steals the Amulet from Lovelace's home and of course, everything blows up in their faces. From then on its one mess after another involving betrayal, power struggles and murder.
A funny thing about this book is it seems there is no good guy. All the characters have negative qualities aplenty. All the magicians are arrogant jackasses with really tacky taste (they like jugglers a lot) who don't even consider commoners as "real" people. And that includes Nathaniel. In any regular book, by the end the hero has identified with the oppressed and taken up his cause. In this novel, Nathaniel's encounter with the Resistance only leaves him wanting to hunt them down to ensure the continuation of the magician's privileges.
This reminds me of another point I really liked about this book is that Stroud avoided the trap of trying to do too much. The Resistance plays only a small role; it catches your attention and really leaves you wanting more. He doesn't explain their abilities and their small plot doesn't get resolved. You can tell Stroud is laying the foundation for the other books in the trilogy. Personally, I can't wait for the next one.
You won't regret buying this book, believe me.
on May 16, 2004
I enjoyed this book and would actually give it 4 1/2 stars. In the beginning, I felt it ranked as high as Harry Potter. In the end, perhaps less so.
To me, these are the book's strengths:
1. Original setting in a modern-day London with magicians ruling the country.
2. Fun character in Bartimaeus and the other spirits.
3. Interesting setup between Nathaniel and Lovelace. Interesting relationship between Nathaniel and Bartimaeus.
4. Good writing. Funny asides by Bartimaeus. Vivid and dramatic scenes.
And the weaknesses:
1. Bad magicians with no complexity or redeeming qualities. Too one-dimensional sometimes.
2. A little schizophrenia on the part of Nathaniel and Bartimaeus. One minute, they're cold and heartless. The next, they're having a crisis of conscience and/or crying. Bartimaeus is supposed to be a rather scary entity, but sometimes he's just pretty darn sweet.
3. Nathaniel gets lucky too often, especially at the end. Basically, he wins through the incompetence of everyone else. Sometimes, he doesn't deserve to win due to his pig-headedness and lack of common sense.
Having said that, though, it was a fun read that was hard to put down. I would recommend it (and already have to several people) and plan to read the other books in the series.
on May 15, 2004
...the half that was narrated by the demon. Maybe I've been spoiled to thinking that all boy wizards should be overly heroic (*shakes fist as Harry Potter*), and the boy Nathaniel had definite potential in the beginning of the book, but by the end I could think nothing but, "Lords above, QUIT YOUR WHINING AND GO BACK TO BARTIMAEUS!" I thought the idea of magic in this book was much more sophisticated than it is in Harry Potter, indeed, when if you summon a demon and step out of your protective pentacle the demon can proceed to kill you on the spot. The realness of the magic, the social commentary on how humans work, especially in politcal systems, was very between the lines but could also be enlightening to a middle schooler.
Basically, I started out enthralled with the book, I loved everything about it. But soon, Nathaniel became just another petulant boy, and I really wanted the book to end. The only enduring character in this book is Bartimaeus, who is both very entertaining (his commentary on humans is always interesting), but I also felt extreme pity for him to have to put up with Nathaniel. His angst at having the boy for a master came through to me as a reader.