My obsession with the Fantasy genre of novels shows no signs of abating. Last couple of weeks, I have been immersed in the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, occasionally looking up to face real-life. Even while doing other things, I was constantly wondering about the next twist and turn that would come up in this series.
Yes, these books are THAT good!
Now on to the review…
The Bartimaeus trilogy consists of the following books:
- The Amulet of Samarkand
- The Golem’s Eye
- Ptolemy’s Gate
Here is a brief description and reviews of all the three novels:
The Amulet of Samarkand: This book sets the stage for the trilogy. The story takes place in a London where the society is a bit feudal consisting of 2 main classes: the magicians and the commoners. The magicians are super exclusive and comprise the governing class. They rule the country without a thought for the welfare of the commoners. In addition, the magicians tyrannize and enslave demons who are forced to carry out whatever tasks are allotted to them, whether they like it or not.
In this society, there is a young boy apprentice magician named Nathaniel who seems to embody all the vices that are inherent in such a society – ambition, arrogance, and a disdain for those not possessing magical talent. After he is insulted at a party, he summons and enslaves the demon (or djinni as he prefers to be called) Bartimaeus to help him take revenge on the magicians who caused his humiliation.
In the process, they manage to save the Prime Minister of England from a traitorous attack by one of his magical ministers, and Nathaniel becomes the Prime Minister’s favorite. However, the main characters and the mastermind behind the conspiracy manage to get away.
In this book, there are also the first signs of a revolution planned by the commoners against the magician’s regime. However, this is just a hint, and is not dealt with in detail. One of the rebellious commoners is Kitty who although she makes a fleeting appearance in this book, is a much bigger character in the sequels.
The Golem’s Eye:In this book, the magician Nathaniel is fast moving up the ranks of the ministerial cabinet, making a lot of envious enemies along the way. He is also up against the Resistance movement, pitting himself against Kitty. If these headaches aren’t enough, he also has to deal with a creature called a “golem”, which has been let loose in the city by an ambitious magician.
He therefore summons Bartimaeus, and the two of them manage to subdue the golem. The resistance movement is also crushed and Nathaniel emerges the hero once again.
However, they still have not been able to snare the mastermind behind the whole conspiracy.
Ptolemy’s Gate: Easily the most powerful and engrossing of all the 3 books. This is the book that makes the trilogy so awesome. In this book, Nathaniel is a disillusioned minister in the Prime Minister’s cabinet. He does not agree with the PM’s policies, and he finds the constant politicking and scuffle for power amongst the other ministers very tiring. His earlier illusions about the basic benevolence of the government is starting to fade.
Also, the commoners revolts are getting more serious and more difficult to control. In his frustration, he is treating his slave Bartimaeus even worse than before. Bartimaeus is growing weak and vulnerable from all the strain.
Kitty, the revolutionary commoner is also not in good shape. She has been hiding from the government and is secretly learning magic in order to learn how to summon Bartimaeus, who she has befriended in “The Golem’s Eye”. Her ambition is to remove the djinns and the humans from the tyranny of the magicians. She hopes that with the help of Bartimaeus, djinn and humans can work together to overthrow the magicians.
This book goes into a good bit of detail into Bartimaeus past when he was a slave to the magician Ptolemy in Egypt. However, this was a relationship between equals as Ptolemy gave him complete freedom to come and go as he wished. Bartimaeus is very fond of his master Ptolemy, Kitty senses this in her conversations with Bartimaeus, and prompts him to reveal the astonishing secret of Ptolemy’s Gate.
When there is another sabotage attempt by the ministers against the PM, Kitty and Nathaniel use this information provided by Bartimaeus in order to save the day.
The ending of this book is superb, surprising, and very moving, and absolutely perfectly written. The author has managed to retain the tone of the books (which throughout is very light and humorous), while subtly changing “Ptolemy’s Gate” to being a much more darker and more mature book. A great end to the series.
What is so Awesome About This Series
The books switch perspective between all the 3 main characters – Nathaniel, Bartimaeus, and Kitty. We get to know the events that are occuring from all of them. Since, they are all quite complex characters in their own way, it helped me to understand and empathize with them a lot. Even Nathaniel, who is a pretty nasty guy, is very relatable.
The character development in these books is very nice. None of the people are outright heroes. Some of the choices they make are morally ambiguous, but as you go through the books, they become stronger and learn from their experiences.
The humor in these books is wonderful. The djinni is extremely sarcastic and worldly, and in spite of being Nathaniel’s slave manages to get the upper hand of him in various arguments.
I love the message that is subtly provided in the books. That war can harm the invading country as well as the country that is invaded, that slavery compromises the humanity of the slave-owner as well as the slave, that torture is likewise devastating to both the torturer and the victim, and that a country in which the ruling classes blithely assume that what is in their interest is also in the interest of commoners who have no say is a country heading for destructive violence.
The book series ends with just 3 books, unlike some others which go and on and on…
Do you need any other reasons to read these books? This is a must-read for any lover of Fantasy novels, and a good upgrade for the folks who have graduated from the Harry Potter series of novels. A Young Adult fiction series that is equally suitable for adults as well.
Note: All the books start slowly, but it is worth ploughing through the first 100 pages, because after that the books start getting really interesting and the action totally heats up…