The Amulet of Samarkand: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1

 
Witty and sharp fantasy with complex characters.

What parents need to know

Educational value

A unique magical world presented where magicians are (corrupt) world leaders that derive their power from summoning and subjugating different levels of demons including djinni (like Bartimaeus), imps, afrits, etc. Readers will enjoy comparing this world to Harry Potter, Septimus Heap, and other magical series. Bartimeaus includes much "history" about the world in footnotes throughout and includes mentions of the Trojan Horse and Atlantis.

Positive messages

Shows where unbridled ambition and a thirst for power often lead. Also shows what happens when a society is so fractured -- the pompous magician haves and the commoner have-nots -- making a rebellion against the haves almost inevitable.

Positive role models

Nathaniel is ambitious and impatient with his master to learn and be acknowledged for the smart magician he is. He also can't handle being belittled and decides to take revenge against the wrong powerful magician for it. It's through this huge mistake in judgment that he grows up very quickly. There's a part of him that wants to be honorable and save others, and that comes through when he continually choses the harder path -- he never runs away from danger. The much more magically experienced Bartimaeus often chides Nathaniel for his ambition, naviety, and impatience, and also reminds Nathaniel of how corrupt this magical world is. While Bartimaeus seems to want nothing more than his freedom from serving Nathaniel he's also subtly rooting for him to improve himself.

Violence

When a powerful demon is summoned about a dozen magicians are killed, one swallowed and the others sucked into an abyss. Another explosion injures many. Nathaniel barely escapes a house fire where two people die, one of them close to him. He also causes the death of another magician who falls and breaks his neck, and is upset by it. Nathaniel is beaten until he is unconcious and gets in a fist fight. A statue is dropped on a man who is somehow not crushed by it. Demons tussle on many occasions with explosions, stings, and traps. People are knocked unconcious. Mentions of a guard's throat being cut and a magician swept into the air by a demon and pieces of him raining down.

Sex

Bartimaeus, a shapeshifter, mentions that he may appear as a naked woman to Nathaniel just to fluster him.

Language

Just "damn" and "hell" and not often.

Consumerism

One mention of sandwiches in Saran Wrap.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults drink wine and champagne. Nathaniel, 12, gets one swig of champagne. Quick mention of a woman smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Amulet of Samarkand is the first book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, written before the author's popular Lockwood & Co. ghost hunter series. Since it concerns magicians who get their powers from summoning demons and there are a lot of power-hungry magicians in this world, expect plenty of fantasy violence. Magicians die in fires, explosions, by being swallowed by a demon, and from being sucked into an abyss. One of the main characters, 12-year-old Nathaniel, is beaten until he's unconscious, knocks others unconscious, causes the death of one magician who falls and breaks his neck, and gets into fist fights. Readers will root for Nathaniel even though it's clear that he's driven too much by ambition and revenge. He's also driven by the need to save others and never takes the easy way out -- he throws himself into dangerous situations at every turn. And when his head gets too big the sardonic djinn Bartimaeus is always there to take him down a peg.

What's the story?

In an England in which magicians are the aristocracy and run the government, and ordinary people are beginning a revolt, apprentice magician Nathaniel is humiliated by a powerful government official, Lovelace, and devotes his life to revenge. Finding his master, Mr. Underwood, weak both in character and magic, he teaches himself from books, and finds in himself a level of talent that no one else suspects.

To begin his revenge, he calls up a powerful djinn, Bartimaeus, and orders him to steal the powerful amulet of Samarkand from Lovelace, and hide it in Underwood's study. But he has underestimated both the power of his opponent and the complexity of the politics involved, and he soon finds himself in far over his head, with only his captive, restive, and contemptuous djinn to protect him.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

This latest heir to the Potter mantle is a worthy successor, combining a rich, complex story, a delightfully acerbic voice, and an original protagonist. Among many pleasures here is a very different system of magic, detailed by the snide and chatty Bartimaeus in a series of footnotes.

Like many other Rowling wanna-bes, the author has learned that children love reading fat books, but he hasn't learned how to pace his books. Tighter editing could have produced a book 100 or so pages shorter without sacrifice. But it's a witty, fun ride nonetheless, destined to be popular and to have fans waiting eagerly for the next installment.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the use of magic in this series. How does it compare with the use of magic in the Harry Potter series?

  • What do you think about Nathaniel? Even though he's naive and ambitious do you root for him? Is he a hero or an antihero?

  • Will you read the next book in the series? What do you think will happen with resistance? How do you think this subplot in Book 1 will be handled in the sequels?

Book details

Author:Jonathan Stroud
Genre:Fantasy
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Monsters, ghosts, and vampires
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Hyperion Books for Children
Publication date:June 9, 2004
Number of pages:464
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 14
Available on:Paperback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of The Amulet of Samarkand: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1 was written by

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Quality

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  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byergie96 August 20, 2009
age 10+
 

Should Be Made Into A Movie

This is one of my favorite books ever. It is set in modern day London and gives a whole new spin on wizardry. You will love the djinni young Nathaniel summons; Bartimaeus is full of wit and humor. There are messages about the greed and power-hungry nature of the magicians, which become more pronounced in the second book. An excellent, page-turner, must-read that will keep you awake late into the night!
What other families should know
Great messages
Adult Written byGrainne April 9, 2008
Teen, 13 years old Written byEpicPerson July 15, 2011
age 9+
 

Give a hand for Stroud

Stroud's work is wonderful! A great book about magicians and spirits. Highly recommended. May need a little parent guidance, because there is a lot of fantasy violence. I praise Stroud for his work!
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence

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