The Amulet of Samarkand: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Amulet of Samarkand: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Witty and sharp fantasy with complex characters.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 10 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 22 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A unique magical world presented where magicians are (corrupt) world leaders who derive their power from summoning and subjugating different levels of demons, including djinni (such as Bartimaeus), imps, afrits, and so on. Readers will enjoy comparing this world to those of Harry Potter, Septimus Heap, and other magical series. Bartimeaus includes much "history" about the world in footnotes 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 vs. the commoner have-nots -- that a rebellion against the haves is almost inevitable.

Positive Role Models & Representations

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 chooses the harder path -- he never runs away from danger. The much more magically experienced Bartimaeus often chides Nathaniel for his ambition, naviete, and impatience, and he 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.


When a powerful demon is summoned, about a dozen magicians are killed, with one swallowed and the others sucked into an abyss. An 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 unconscious, and he gets in a fistfight. A statue is dropped on a man who's somehow not crushed by it. Demons tussle on many occasions with explosions, stings, and traps. People are knocked unconscious. Mentions of a guard's throat being cut and a magician swept into the air by a demon and pieces of him raining down.


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


"Damn" and "hell" infrequently.


One mention of Saran Wrap.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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

What 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, expect plenty of fantasy violence. Magicians die in fires and 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 fistfights. 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 11 and 14-year-old Written bysensomatic April 10, 2011

As Long As They Don't Try To Summon A Demon

As an adult, I think this book is spot on funny and entertaining. I've reccomended it to my 14 year old daughter as she has the common sense and moral bac... Continue reading
Parent of a 4 and 11-year-old Written byone kiwi fruit August 2, 2010
Rich english language, full of action, funny. Love It!
Teen, 13 years old Written byEpicPerson July 15, 2011

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 fant... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byergie96 August 20, 2009

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;... Continue reading

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's 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?

This 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.

As with many other Rowling wannabes, the author has learned that children love reading fat books, but he still has something to learn about pacing. 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 have fans waiting eagerly for the next installment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and magic

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