The Amulet of Samarkand
by Jonathan Stroud
“That did it. I'd gone through a lot in the past few days. Everyone I met seemed to want a piece of me: djinn, magicians, humans...it made no difference.I'd been summoned, manhandled, shot at, captured, constricted, bossed about and generally taken for granted. And now, to cap it all, this bloke is joining in too, when all I'd been doing was quietly trying to kill him.” ― Jonathan Stroud, The Amulet of Samarkand
Fantasy is a small portion of my reading life and over the years I have read only a few, generally high quality, fantasy novels. I belong to a book group dedicated to reading Science Fiction and over the past year and a half we have read both classics of the genre like Ringworld and The Stars My Destination and newer entries like Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and Robert Sawyer's Calculating God. However we have expanded our reading into the realm of fantasy with books like Neil Gaiman's American Gods and, most recently, this first volume in Jonathan Stroud's trilogy about a genie named Bartimaeus. This quickly became a fantasy which I truly enjoyed reading.
Jonathan Stroud, in this the first novel of a trilogy, succeeds in creating interesting characters, a plot that avoids expected or cliche-driven events as the narrative moves forward, and provides a satisfying conclusion to this first part of the trilogy while leaving some intriguing questions unanswered; thus preparing the way for the reader to engage in the next volume (which I am likely to do). The titular character for whom the trilogy is named is a genie (or Djinn) with attitude and a comic sense that relieves the growing suspense. It is a suspense that increases through the interaction between the ten-year-old Nathaniel who calls forth Bartimaeus at the beginning of the story and sets in motion a plot that leads inexorably to an exciting denouement. Nathaniel, while of above-average intelligence, is lacking in wisdom due mainly to his immaturity. Unlike similar characters in other young adult fantasies (think Harry Potter) Nathaniel has no friends of his own age and is taught by a shambles of a Magician named Arthur Underwood who is somewhat clueless as to the goings on of his young student. Nathaniel, in his youthful exuberance (which some would call hubris in someone slightly older) manages to enrage Simon Lovelace, an evil and powerful magician who threatens anyone who stands in the way of his plans.
Leavened with footnotes that expanded this reader's knowledge of magicians, sorcerers, genies, and their assorted henchlings this novel was an attractive book that I looked forward to reading so much that I sped through it. I would recommend this to all lovers of fantasy, both young and old.
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