The Amulet of SamarkandThe Amulet of Samarkand has been on my reading list for around 5 years which seems a ridiculously long time. This year I've tried to clear out books I've had on my TBR shelf for a really long time so when I saw this was available on audio through my library, I hurriedly checked it out. And I'm glad I did! This ended up being an original and thrilling take on the YA fantasy genre. Set in London (my favorite!), the best way to describe it would be if Harry Potter met Supernatural in terms of world-building...while remaining wholly distinct from both. The characters are thoroughly different than the usual YA-fare and all the more engaging for it. But more on that in a bit...
by Jonathan Stroud
The Bartimaeus Trilogy #1
Published September 30th 2003 by Disney - Hyperion
Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five and sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the "ultimate sacrifice" for a "noble destiny."
If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn't tough enough, Nathaniel's master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy's only saving grace is the master's wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.
Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine
Let's start with the world-building, which is where I think this book really shines. In The Amulet of Samarkand, there are demons. And it is those demons which hold magical powers. To summon a demon is to gain control over it and thus, over it's powers as well so magicians summon demons and use them to do their bidding. The more educated, powerful and mature a magician is, the more powerful the demon he can summon. In this world, demons are an umbrella term that encompasses djinni, spirits, foliots and other magical entities from the 'other' realm. Like I said, the book is set in London but it's been described as a 'dystopian, magical London' which also makes it stand appart from your run-of-the-mill fantasies. The world-building and the tone were both gorgeously atmospheric, mysterious and richly imagined. I honestly felt as though I'd been transported somewhere other all throughout reading this. The demon aspect being the source of all magic gave the entire world a dark and ominous feel that was maintained throughout.
Character-wise, author Jonathan Stroud also offers up something fresh. The story is told between Nathaniel, a young but gifted human and Bartimaeus, the mid-level djinni the boy summons. Bartimaeus' parts are told in first person but Nathaniel's are told in third person but of which suited their respective character's style and storyline. It makes the reader feel closer to the demon which is yet another thing that makes this story feel so fresh! Bartimaeus is sassy, dangerous and cocky AF but it makes him all the more entertaining for it. In some ways, he reminded me of Crowley from Supernatural but in demon form. Nathaniel is a sweet boy but he's also impatient, ambitious and ruthless. He makes more than his fair share of mistakes but he's crazy-determined if nothing else. I mentally sorted him into Slytherin before long and I doubt most readers would disagree. The striking thing about these characters is that there is no true hero in the traditional sense - just a bunch of shades of grey characters. Both of these characters are flawed. They're opportunistic, they're liars and they're manipulative but you can't help rooting for them in the end
The story itself held my interest throughout though it was a bit long in some parts near the end. I feel like the book could have been split into two books or some aspects could have been trimmed a bit. That might be due to me listening to the book on audio. The narrator, Simon Jones was wonderful but he read at a relaxed pace and given that the book is nearly 500 pages, it took a considerable amount of time to get through. I don't regret doing the audio with this one though, Simon Jones pulled off the darkness of Bartimaeus and the more innocent yet cunning Nathaniel perfectly. He brought a real gravitas to the story too, lending to the atmospheric tone and inherent darkness of the world.
I can't believe I waited so long to get into The Amulet of Samarkand and I highly recommend it to YA-fantasy readers looking for something that breaks the mould of traditional YA-fantasy lit. The world itself is something that constantly stayed with me, even when I wasn't reading. As much as I consider myself a characters reader, I adore getting lost in rich fantasy worlds and the one here certainly fit the bill. I can't wait to continue on with the trilogy!
My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars