Friday, May 12, 2017

Review: Ptolemy's Gate

Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud
Bartimaeus Sequence #3
Published December 19th 2005 by Miramax

Three years have passed since the magician Nathaniel helped prevent a cataclysmic attack on London. Now an established member of the British Government, he faces unprecedented problems: foreign wars are going badly; Britain's enemies are mounting attacks close to London; and rebellion is fomenting among the commoners. Increasingly imperious and distracted, Nathaniel is treating Bartimaeus worse than ever. The long-suffering djinni is growing weak and vulnerable from too much time in this world and is nearing the end of his patience.
Meanwhile, Nathaniel's longtime rival Kitty has been stealthily completing her research on magic, demons, and Bartimaeus' past. She has a daring plan that she hopes will break the endless cycle of conflict between djinn and humans. But will anyone listen to what she has to say?

In this glorious conclusion to the Bartimaeus trilogy, the destinies of Bartimaeus, Nathaniel, and Kitty converge once more. Together the threesome faces treacherous magicians, a complex conspiracy, and a rebellious faction of demons. To survive, they must test the limits of this world and question the deepest parts of themselves. And most difficult of all-they will have to learn to trust one another.
Ptolemy's Gate is the stunning conclusion to the Bartimaeus Trilogy, which is officially one of the best YA fantasy series I've read in a long time. As it tends to be with really, really good books, the ending feels like it came to soon because I'm not ready to leave this world...and these characters but the series wrapped up in such an explossive way that I can't fault author Jonathan Stroud for finishing his trilogy when he did.  Nevertheless, I would happily read many more books set in this world with these characters.

What makes this series so unique is that every single character is a shades-of-gray character. Not a single one of them is wholly good, or wholly evil, and while that makes them more real, it also makes their struggles and their victories all the more touching. Our main character Nathaniel, is the perfect example of this and his character arc is spectacular because of it. There is a significant evolution to his character but not in the way one would expect when you start the series. In no way is his journey that of a typical YA fantasy protagonist.  His relationship with the Demon or Djinni Bartimaeus is likewise nothing like you'd expect going in. Throughout the series, they've had a tense partnership at best but in the conclusion to the series, they both go through so much, it can't help but alter them in drastic ways.  Ptolemy's Gate also features remarkable insight into Bartimaeus' past - namely his previous relationship with his previous master, Ptolemy -which I have to say I was craving for a very long time. Those flashbacks did not disappoint in the least! Not to be outdone, Kitty becomes an even more integral piece of the narrative than she previously was. As a Commoner, she has unique insight and skills that she puts to amazingly good use here...and not a moment too soon. Yeah, in case it wasn't obvious: shit gets intense here. And fast.

Beyond the characters, Stroud focusses on class struggles, here between The Magicians and The Commoners and also between The Magicians and The Demons. Historically, The Magicians have held all of the power but there is unrest among The Commoners and likewise amongst the Demons. All of those elements come to a head in Ptolemy's Gate but it's how things unravel that makes this series so unique.  I know I've categorized the series as YA-fantasy but like the superior YA-fantasy stories, the Bartimaeus Sequence has immense crossover appeal as Adult Fantasy.  The series has been described as:
The book and series are about the power struggles in a magical dystopia centered in London, England featuring a mixture of modern and ancient, secular and mythological themes. The series has been described as a darker, more political and morally complex version of Harry Potter.
Wow. Right?  Coming from one of the biggest Potterheads on the planet, I don't take quotes like this lightly but I have to say that I mostly agree with that quote. I'm not saying it's better than Harry Potter (blasphemy!) and I'm not sure it's darker or more morally complex than my favorite series but it certainly holds it's own when compared to it and other quality works of fantasy-fiction. It's an intelligent, layered and quite frankly haunting piece of fiction.

The ending of Ptolemy's Gate is bitter-sweet, which should be expected with such a morally gray series but still, my heart aches for these characters even though I know it couldn't have gone down any other way. I can't help but wish that things could have been different, or that there might be another book someday that makes my heartbreak lessen.  That's the true mark of quality fiction though isn't it?  I'd recommend the trilogy to every single YA-fantasy reader that ever lived and I'd especially recommend the audiobook version narrated by Simon Jones who brings an impressive mix of gravitas, humor, atmosphere and sass to this world and it's characters. I will absolutely be re-reading and/or re-listening to this series again and again.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars


  1. It sounds like a bittersweet ending is perfect for this series, and I like the sound of the shades of grey characters. And a series that can bridge the divide between Ya and adult fantasy definitely sounds good. Glad this was so good!

  2. I love it when none of the characters are 100% good or bad! That just makes for such interesting story telling! I have to check this series out! Great review!

  3. You know that morally gray characters are TOTALLY my thing! This series sounds like a definite winner, and I can't believe I didn't have it on my GR TBR. Just fixed that, LOL!


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