‘The Golem’s Eye’ is the second book in the ‘Bartimaeus’ series by Jonathan Stroud, where the human protagonist is older and nastier, while the titular demon is entertaining as ever. While book one was fun, it took me a few days to pick up book two, because it seemed a little bigger. But when the last few chapters arrived, I wished the novel had more pages!
Plot overview – Three years after his unpleasant adventures with Nathaniel, the Djinni Bartimaeus finds himself summoned by the same boy again, despite the two agreeing on never seeing each again. But Nathaniel is now a rising magician with the government, under pressure to crack a series of terrorist attacks in London and the task needs the services of a reliable demon. Again, the two of them are up against a formidable enemy and will need some solid strategy to survive without scratches.
This time around, there’s a lot more story and action, unlike the first book, which was basically about a bratty kid trying to get back at an adult for insulting him. In ‘The Golem’s Eye’, an unknown powerful monster is on rampage, tearing through the city of London, destroying places, eating up demons and leaving top magicians at the end of their wits. While most ministers blame a group called ‘The Resistance’ for the attacks, Nathaniel knows better.
Bartimaeus remains charmingly sarcastic, witty and hateful of humans, while Nathaniel is increasingly annoying as a self-centered teen who is full of himself. Stroud has given us a demon protagonist that is an absolute treat for readers, even though he doesn’t fall into an ‘ideal hero’ category. Not at all. He isn’t loyal, he always watches his own back, and is more than happy to leave his master in the jaws of death. But Bartimaeus has lived for thousands of years, earning the right to be a vary of everyone.
The girl called Kitty from the last book gains prominence in the sequel and has a significant role. She is part of the ‘Resistance’, a group run by non-magicians (or commoners as they are disdainfully referred to as why the ruling class) that wants to topple the government. A lot of readers would like Kitty more than Nat, she represents the aspirational working class, the ‘rebel’ who is no longer willing to be treated like second-class citizens by those in power. Her character growth and back-story is more vivid and likable than Nat’s.
‘Knowledge is power’, is a key theme in ‘The Golem’s Eye’, and more often than not, knowledge can only be found in the wisdom of books. The ‘commoners’ are kept in the dark about how magicians work, taught only propaganda in schools, while magicians get first class education and detailed lessons in history. Although, class/power-struggle is a bigger theme and peppered throughout the plot. On one hand you have the resistance trying to bring down the magicians, on the other hand, there’s a lot of internal politics dividing the ranks of the magicians running the government. Everybody is ready to find a sacrificial lamb for their mistakes, even if it means pinning the blame on a 14-year-old boy. Quite typical of real life political power-tussles really. With a lot of demons thrown in the mix.
Stroud actually begins the book with a very intriguing fictional prologue on how Prague fell into the hands of the British empire in the 1860s. And this flashback chapter’s significance is explained later in the novel as the plot progresses. As the climax begins to approach, I felt that maybe it’s going to have a hasty conclusion like ‘The Amulet of Samarkand’, but instead, it was surprisingly smoother and satisfactory. Some of climactic events do feel a little too easy and more like strokes of luck, but guess we’ll just have to make peace with it.
It’s a 4/5 from me.
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