A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
Themes & Topics
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