Monday, October 21, 2013

Bartimaeus: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

I considered reading this book after reading Janssen's review of the audiobook:
Narrated by a powerful and snarky djinni who finds himself summoned by an apprenticed magician bent on revenge, we picked this one off the shelf at the library on a whim. This was the luckiest whim ever. After this book, we looked for everything Simon Jones narrated. He's that good.

Who wouldn't want to listen to it after that description?

But whether it was because I needed more convincing or because I wanted more plot spoilers, I headed over to goodreads to get more information. There, I discovered the story takes place in London and has an undercurrent of a fight for power between good magicians and bad magicians (sound familiar?). But even the 2-star raters said it was nothing like Harry Potter, so I decided to give it a try.

(This is another reason that having the library as my sole source of reading materials works out in my favor: I'm willing to stop reading books/magazines at any point. When I bought books, I'd make myself slog through even the worst ones so I could get "my money's worth" - although I realize now it would have time better spent to just stop reading!)

Once I started though, all bets were off. It had dark, sarcastic plot, and plenty of demons and other interesting characters. Most importantly, it's not Harry Potter. The basic premise is that magicians use their power to call and control spirits of various levels, and the spirits do the magic. They are bound to carry out their master's wishes and many die in the process. So when Nathaniel wants to seek revenge, he does what any other magician would: call a spirit (in this case a djinni) to do it for him. (I hope this slavery piece is explored further in future books.)

The djinni he chooses, Bartimaeus, is witty, clever, and anything but modest. One thing leads to another, and the story took a turn I didn't expect. And then another. It was a throughly enjoyable listen and I'm already planning to buy it for two people on my Christmas list. I think listening to it helped me feel transported into another world (although it takes place in London, some events in history have been mildly edited, and of course's there's the magic aspect) because the narrator, Simon Jones, is English. 

All in all: an excellent read (or listen). You should try it :)

Sidenote 1: Many reviewers complained that Nathaniel wasn't well developed enough to serve as one of the main characters. But I think the way the author chose to depict him (and the fact that his portions of the book were told in the third person, rather than first person as Bartimaeus' were) means that this was meant to be. It's a trilogy, so I'm wondering if the author painted Nathaniel as more one-sided so he can show more change or growth as the series continues. And at any rate, Bartimaeus stole the show for me and I cared more about getting to know him than I did Nathaniel.

And sidenote 2:  This book gives me the urge to be a better writer. Jonathan Stroud has a way of describing things that made me hang on to every word, marvel at how perfectly he was using each one, and smirk or giggle at Bartimaeus' thoughts on the matter. All at once. Amazing. Read an excerpt here and I dare you to disagree ;)

Read anything good lately?

4 comments:

  1. Your sidenote #2 is what really tempts me to check this one out...I love authors who can paint such vivid pictures.

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  2. Hmm, you mentioned twice that it wasn't like Harry Potter - does that mean you're not a fan? (Personally the Potter books did not resonate with me because I don't like the 3rd person narrative and all the long descriptive passages). I stop reading books that don't grab me. I give them a bit of a chance but I don't force it. Life is too short to read bad books!

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    1. I mention it twice because that was my biggest fear - I didn't want to read a Harry Potter copycat story. I ADORE Harry Potter. They came out at the perfect time for me (middle school) and I grew up with Harry, so to speak.

      If the 3rd person POV and long descriptions weren't your cup of tea in Harry Potter, this might not be the book for you - it has both!

      I'm glad you stop reading bad books too :)

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