Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Another Boy Wizard

The Bartimaeus Trilogy
by Jonathan Stroud
Consisting of: The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem's Eye, and Ptolemy's Gate

Although from the outset the first installment, The Amulet of Samarkand, feels a bit like a rehash of Harry Potter, especially since the protagonist Nathaniel is an above-average wizard with an indifferent caretaker, the series has its own distinct voice. Unlike the world of Harry Potter where muggles live unaware of the wizarding world, the class structure of Nathaniel's world is based upon magic. Those who practice magic comprise the upper classes, as well as the ruling class, while those who do not practice magic are lower-class commoners. And it is not merely Nathaniel's Britain, but every major empire in history that has adhered to these divisions, or so Bartimaeus the djinn tells us.

The first book alternates chapters between Nathaniel and Bartimaeus, the mid-level djinn that Nathaniel has summoned in order to steal the amulet of Samarkand and take revenge upon Simon Lovelace, a junior minister in the government. Unbeknownst to Nathaniel, Lovelace plots a coup against the government; however, thanks to Nathaniel's interference, there are a few snags in the plan.

In the next installment, The Golem's Eye, Nathaniel is working in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, thanks in part to his role in preventing the coup of the first book. After an increasing number of attacks occur at magic shops across London, Nathaniel is ordered to investigate. The majority of the government believes the resistance to be involved in the attacks, but Nathaniel has other suspicions, given the number of magical beings that have been killed in the attacks, in addition to the humans. With information supplied to him by Bartimaeus, the two set off to Prague, believing the culprit to be a golem.

A third voice, that of Kitty Jones, a minor character in the first book, is added to that of Nathaniel and Bartimaeus, lending the reader both information about and sympathy toward the resistance. In the latter half of the novel, she and the ragtag members of the resistance infiltrate Gladstone's tomb, planning to steal the powerful magical artifacts therein. However, the tomb is protected by a demented spirit dead-set upon destroying humanity, and Kitty and Nathaniel must reluctantly work together to defeat both foes.

While the first two books could probably be read as stand-alone adventures, the final installment, Ptolemy's Gate would be difficult to enjoy had readers not previously been familiar with the world of Bartimaeus. Major plot points from both of the other books culminate in an unexpected revelation and a harrowing final battle. Without saying too much about the story, the basic plot is that the magical government is weakening, as more commoners begin to build a resilience to magic.

Although all of the books are well-written and thought-provoking, I felt the final installment to be the strongest of the three, which is rare in trilogies, sadly. In this final book, Stroud presents us with information about the Other Place, the home world of the spirits, as well as Bartimaeus's backstory involving Ptolemy. The parallels between Ptolemy and Nathaniel by the end of the book, especially Nathaniel's final act in the battle, make for a very satisfying conclusion.

All in all, I am sorry to have waited to read this fine trilogy. I will gladly defend it against those who may deride it as a Harry Potter clone, and I look forward to the planned film adaptation.

Series Grade: A

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