Monday, July 26, 2010

Review - The Amulet of Samarkand | The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1

The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1)When I read the synopsis for The Amulet of Samarkand, I was largely expecting another Harry Potter clone or something of the same general ilk. Within the first couple of chapters, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book has plenty of unique qualities that set it apart from the current kids fantasy books I've read lately.

One of the first things I came to enjoy was the overall tone of the writing. The author has broken the story out into two main categories and alternates between them….The categories are the point of view and voice. One segment will be from the point of view of Bartimaeus, the very old, very talented, and very sarcastic djinn who has been summoned for what he suspects will be a menial task of an underage magician. The other segment is from the point of view of that underage magician, Nathaniel, who is young, somewhat naive as to the way things work in his society, and very passionate.

The alternating voices provide an engaging counterbalance in the story and also add tension and intrigue as we, the readers, learn things from one narrator that will potentially affect the other narrator who is currently "off stage."

The storyline is engaging as well. It takes place in a (presumably) contemporary England in which magic users are a sort of elite class. Unlike the Harry Potter world, magicians are not hiding from the non-magic-users. Instead, they are integrated into commerce, politics and other elements of society. There is a definite distinction between magic-users and non-magic-users, but the distinction is one of class and power rather than one of secrecy.

While the book/trilogy is named after Bartimaeus, the plot revolves around Nathaniel and the various events during his apprenticeship. He is apprenticed to a fairly inept and almost non-present master. Nathaniel has good teachers and a strong passion to learn, so he actually engages in his own self-paced learning by sneaking into his master's books and devouring all the knowledge he can.

At first this extra knowledge/talent looks like it will be a great boon for him when he is first introduced to other magicians. But after being put down, he seeks revenge through a fairly small prank for which he is punished. This punishment in turn increases his desire for revenge, and the downward spiral continues out of control (enter Bartimaeus, the Amulet from the title, murder, political intrigue, and more trouble than Nathaniel bargains for).

The writing style is smooth and easy to follow. I especially liked the Bartimeus segments for his snarky voice and hilarious footnotes. The plot is interesting and flowed nicely, revealing the nuances and tension bit by bit until the powder keg is ready to explode.

I really enjoyed this new take on the children/youth fantasy market. I am curious to see the direction the rest of the trilogy takes. I suspect it will be just as entertaining.

4 out of 5 stars

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nephite blood spartan heart said...

I've been meaning to read this-I'll get round to it sometime soon.

Hannah said...

I've had this on my list forever. Good thing to know it will be a good read whenever I get around to it.

Okie said...

It's a lot of fun. Talking with my sister-in-law, she says the trilogy is great but the ending of the series left her frustrated. I guess I'll have to read on to find out why. :)