I vividly remember reading this book as a child but don’t remember a single thing about the story. When I saw this on sale at a second hand book sale, nostalgia got the better of me and I picked it up with the intent to reread it. That was well over a year ago, but I have finally read it.
Title: The Amulet of Samarkand
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Date published: September 30th 2003
Page Count: 480
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.
I remember reading this book ages ago when i was a child, and when i saw it at a second hand book sale I decided to pick it up as i remember enjoying the story immensely but could not for the life of me remember anything about the story itself. While it was an entertaining read with both light heart comedic moments and dark intense moments, It felt a little too young for me (then again I am in my early twenties and may not be the exact demographic for the book) and the plot a little thin.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the book is the split narration between twelve year old magician apprentice Nathaniel and the djinni Bartimaeus. Nathaniels narration is third person and the normal style of narration for many books-in which they describe the actions of the characters, the scenery, their thought and so on. Bartimaeus however breaks the fourth wall numerous times and throughout this narration speaks directly to the reader as if he is telling a story. He often pipes in while narrating to include a cheeky joke and through the use of footnotes can add in extra bits of background information, context, or include more of his snarky and humours comments. These two differing narrators compliment each other, balancing the intense and plot driven Nathaniel story with the comedic and magical Bartimaeus story, to bring life to an interesting, but at many times a simple and disjointed plot.
The basis of the book is the revenge plot of the young Nathaniel coming to fruition. After being publicly shammed and belittled by an acquaintance of his master and noticing the reluctance of his master to intervene and defend his young apprentice, Nathaniel concocts a plan to get revenge on both the magician Lovelace (who humiliated him) and his master by stealing a magical artefact that is in Lovelace’s possession. This, inevitably, goes out of hand and leads to murder, political sabotage, and the exposure of a major plot to overthrow the magical government. Let me remind you that the protagonist is only twelve years old.
And that is the major thing that held me back from enjoying this book-that the main character is only twelve years old, and he just lacks the characterisation for me as a reader to care about him. I lived for the Bartimaeus chapters to break the monotony of Nathaniels narration. It felt so unrealistic that Nathaniel did all of the things in the book-if he was a teenager or more time was taken to flesh out his character and demonstrate that he is capable I would have found it easier to accept him as the main character.
The plot and the world/setting was so basically described and lacked depth and exposition. The plot felt like the throwing of events together and lacked those small links between the major events to make a coherent story that you can follow along as a reader. It had the basics there, it just needed more complexity. This is the same with the world and the magic used in the book. While it is introduced and described as magic that comes from internal power within a magician, but also has a strong basis in summoning various levels of djinni, imps and other demonic creatures. But how it all works, what forms of magic exist and the government system of magicians that plays such a huge part in the book lacked description. I was wanting more exploration of magic and the setting to give the story context and meaning.
You might think after reading this review that I did not enjoy reading the book-that would be partly true. It was an entertaining read and I did want to finish it to the end and see how everything resolved, but it was not gripping or thrilling or thought provoking. It lacked that detail and interest that other books have that makes it a good book to read.
Though it is worthwhile to remember that you must take this review with a grain of salt (probably more so then my other reviews) as I am a twenty one year old ‘critically’ (I tell myself I write critical and interesting reviews) a book aimed for primary schoolers or early high schoolers-a younger audience then the books I normally read.