Wizard’s Library: Bartimaeus (The Amulet of Samarkand)

Bartimaeus is a story about two protagonists and the evolution of their relationship.  We have the young Magician’s Apprentice, Nathaniel, and the ancient Djinni, Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus is a great book that falls into the category of Young Adult Fiction, but is really a story that any fantasy lover would enjoy.  There is well-paced action, detailed spell casting, London in an alternate world ruled by magicians, and of course a great narrator in the form of the Djinni, Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

What is Bartimaeus about?

The Amulet of Samarkand is the first book in the Bartimaeus trilogy and a great origin story for Nathaniel, who becomes the Magician’s Apprentice John Mandrake.

The book does a great job of explaining the magic system in this alternate history of London.  We hear about past wars with Prague and great historic battles in Egypt and other locations.  These add a colorful background of world-building that helps to immerse you in the story.

In this world, when you show magical aptitude, you are removed from your family and taken on as an apprentice by a full-fledged magician.  The main source of magic is from summoning various forms of demons that range from weak sprites and imps to stronger foliots, djinni, then the powerful afrits and marids!  These summoned beings become slaves and perform magic duties for the wizards.  Some of their powers can be imbued into objects, while others are classic spells of power like a fireball.  

There is a constant battle using command words and rituals involving pentagrams that wages between the magicians and their summoned help.  When the demons win, the magicians usually die.  This story is about a child prodigy who could not stand the glacial pace of instruction from his master and summoned a djinni on his own, which set into motion world-changing effects (at least for Nathaniel).

What makes this book great?

  • Human protagonist is young, talented, and likable.
  • Summoned protagonist is witty, clever, and above average in power.
  • Two perspectives!  
    • Nathaniel’s chapters are in the third person.  
    • Bartimaeus’ chapters are in the first person.
  • In addition to narrating his own tale, Bartimaeus breaks the fourth wall:
    • He talks to the readers throughout the book in footnotes.
    • The notes are either funny or provide backstory for his long existence.
  • Well-developed bad guys and heroes you can root for!

What does the Amulet of Samarkand have to do with the story?

The Amulet is an integral part of the story, so I will not reveal its role.

However, the various people who obtain the amulet in the story, how they do it and why, help to build a great story with numerous subplots.  There is political intrigue, machinations by varying levels of players with minor and historic ambitions.  

The amulet is important to the story, but the development of Nathaniel, and his relationship with Bartimaeus are the highlights of the tale.  

At the end of each chapter, you are eager to find out what mischief Bartimaeus will get into, and more importantly, get out of!  When it is a Nathaniel chapter, you can’t wait to find out what he will learn, or attempt, or how he will get out of an impossible situation.

Pick up a copy of Jonathan Stroud’s first book in the Bartimaeus trilogy and you will buy the other two before the end of the day!

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

  1. Have you read any books where the demon is a protagonist? 
  2. What is your preferred point of view when reading fantasy; 1st person, 3rd person narrator, 3rd person omniscient?  
  3. Have you read Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus and what did you think?

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