The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, a Review

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
Book One, The Amulet of Samarkand, Hyperion Books for Children, 2003, 462 pages.

Worldview: Dark. In a world where moral behavior is nearly unknown, the protagonist and his genie occasionally demonstrate moral behavior. More often, they don’t.

This book is a well-written high-action story that appeals to boys. It is told from two points of view: the Djinn (genie) Bartimaeus (apparently just a coincidence that this is a Biblical name) and the young magician’s apprentice Nathaniel. This fantasy world contains a version of London that is vaguely familiar but still very different. It is ruled by powerful evil magicians, who take in apprentices rather than producing children of their own. Everyone is jockeying for power, including non-magicians.

But in fact all the magicians’ powers depend on their ability to control demons. Using special glasses or contact lenses, they can see the demons. So the magicians don’t have special powers of their own. They just learn incantations while they are apprentices.

Into this mix comes Nathaniel, age 12, a boy genius who mouths off and is disciplined by his master’s magician acquaintance Simon Lovelace. Nathaniel conceives a plan for revenge. In fact, revenge appears to be Nathaniel’s primary motivator throughout the book.

As a result of Nathaniel’s theft of Lovelace’s amulet, Lovelace kills Nathaniel’s master and his wife. Then Lovelace sets out to kill all the magicians in the government. Nathaniel and Bartimaeus foil him. In the process Nathaniel does plenty of lying and stealing. Flashes of conscience, coming from who knows where, lead him to own up to stealing the amulet, but don’t keep him from seeking revenge.

Nathaniel’s character doesn’t seem to change as the plot develops. In fact, at the end he is placed under the tutelage of another evil magician, and we wonder whether any flashes of conscience will redeem him in the future. Bartimaeus is able to persuade Nathaniel to keep his word and release Bartimaeus from service, but only with great difficulty.

Bartimaeus’s character starts out as undeniably demonic, wishing evil on all the human race. He’s also got irreverent wit, a bit like the genie in the movie Aladdin. Bartimaeus’parts of the book are told in the first person, so we can see his thoughts. But eventually he softens up somewhat. At the end he even commends Nathaniel for having a conscience, and tells him to guard it. Now, where this character change came from isn’t obvious. The high-action tale doesn’t show why a demon would change in this manner.

This is another high-action fantasy tale without merit.–Phyllis Wheeler thumbsdown

7 thoughts on “The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, a Review

  1. Rebecca LuElla Miller

    Hi Phyllis,

    I found your blog via Google Alert for the term “Christian fantasy.”

    Good to know you’re on the look out. Yes, Marcher Lord Press is one source.
    But so are the traditional publishers, especially WaterBrook and Thomas Nelson.

    I don’t know how old your sons are, but for younger Young Adults, take a look at The Door Within
    series. For middle grade, look at The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers. And for older
    look at Harvest House’s series by George Bryan Polivka called The Trophy Chase Trilogy.

    There are a number of grassroots movements to encourage more like these. Publishers respond
    to sales we’re told, but readers can’t buy what they don’t know exists.

    I like your idea to encourage libraries to carry the books. Excellent.


  2. Rebecca LuElla Miller

    Well, I see I posted my comment to the wrote article. I did want to say what a good job you
    did with the Bartimaeus Trilogy review. I’ve been curious about those books for some time.
    Thanks for sparing me the read.


  3. Editor Post author

    That’s for taking a look, Becky! I appreciate it. I’ve looked at your blog and think it’s great.

  4. Pingback: The Bartimaeus Trilogy: The Amulet of Samarkand (bk. 1), by Jonathan Stroud

  5. Somerset Young

    Phyllis, truthfully, I’m rather astonished at your review of
    this novel. I see where you’re coming from, being raised a
    Christian myself, but the fact of the matter is that The
    Amulet of Samarkand is a superbly written tale that demonstrates
    excellent values. Just because those values weren’t religion-
    fueled doesn’t make them bad. True, Nathaniel lies and steals
    throughout the novel, but he was not raised to do otherwise,
    and he was a 12 year old boy on the streets of London, with his
    family dead and no place to go. As for any moral implications
    this book may pose for children, there are two more books in the
    series, and though they can get considerably darker, Nathaniel
    a mentally sound, moral human being.

    -Somerset Young
    Age: 14

  6. Editor Post author

    Somerset, thank you so much for your take on this book. I’m glad to hear what you think.

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