Friday, May 6, 2011

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

This is the first book in the Bartimaeus trilogy. Stroud has an interesting magic system. In this world London is the center of the society because it has the most powerful magicians. The magicians have no power of their own. They use pentacles and spells to enslave different kinds of demons, based on Middle Eastern legends, and the demons have to do what the magicians command. The title character, Bartimaeus, is a djinni who comes under the control of a precocious young magician named Nathaniel. Nathaniel has the djinni steal a powerful amulet from a rival magician who once humiliated the boy. Little does Nathaniel know that the amulet is at the center of a plot to overthrow the Prime Minister and that by stealing it he gets himself into more trouble than he bargained for. This book is really most appropriate for teens but 5th or 6th graders who are voracious fantasy readers will enjoy it as well. The reasons it takes an experienced reader to enjoy it is that it is kind of long, and because Nathaniel and his world are very emotionally complicated. The leaders of the government are either ruthless schemers, or incompetent bumblers. There is no clear good and bad, and the reader is not always sure whether Nathaniel, himself, is a good person. The best thing in the book is the character of Bartimaeus. He is arrogant and cheeky but also wize. When you read the Bartimaeus chapters, be sure to read the footnotes. They are the funniest part. Or better yet, listen to the book in recording. The reader does the footnotes sotto voce with a lot of attitude and it works very well. (462 p)

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