For one whole day, I was curled up in a corner of our couch, reading away ‘The Amulet of Samarkand’ by Jonathan Stroud. The first book in the Bartimaeus trilogy (there’s also a 4th title, a prequel that came out later), which is about an over-ambitious young boy summoning an ancient demon to do his bidding.
Plot overview – 5000-year-old Djinni Bartimaeus finds himself at the beck and call of 12-year-old Jonathan who is an apprentice of a spineless Minister. While the Djinni hopes the boy has some silly errands for him to do, turns out Jonathan plans on going against one of the most powerful magicians in London. Neither of them are prepared for the dangerous consequences that are going to come their way.
Jonathan Stroud spins a witty, fun tale, where readers will be rooting for the non-human titular protagonist till the end. The chapters flit between the boy and the Djinni in a linear fashion and with a limited roster of protagonists, there’s very little scope of confusion. It’s pretty much the perfect kind of story-telling for readers who have a hard time dealing with are too many characters. You know, the sorts (like me) who need the author to draw a family tree on the first page.
Stroud cleverly inserts Bartimaeus’ past with real historic figures through centuries, so the Djinni has several hilarious anecdotes to recall and amuse the readers. Also, this is probably the first time in a novel where the footnotes are funny AF and are an integral part of the plot; not just tedious explanatory notes that you would want to skip.
One just wishes the antagonist of the tale – Simon Lovelace – had a little more space in the book. He doesn’t appear a lot and there are times when it’s Jonathon that comes across as the villain. In-fact, despite being a decent sized book – almost all characters lack depth and the climactic chapters feel underwhelming and rushed. The big twist at the end was almost disappointing, but Stroud writes so well, that most readers will find themselves turning page after page.
Both the boy and his Djinni are grey, not your ideal ‘hero’ sort of protagonist. If anything, it feels like Jonathan will grow up to be just like the Lovelace – conceited, power-hungry, with zero morals. Bartimaeus is not exactly an inspirational figure either, he is all about ‘self-preservation’, more than happy to have anybody sacrificed, as long as it saves his skin from burning in hell. It’s a pretty good change really, not having ‘holier than thou’ type of leads, that’s what makes ‘Amulet of Samarkand’ such a fun read.
Even though the book leaves one wishing for more, I was thoroughly entertained and invested in Bartimaeu’s tale. It’s a 4/5 from me.
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