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The Amulet of Samarkand: The Bartimaeus Trilogy Book One    by Jonathan Stroud order for
Amulet of Samarkand
by Jonathan Stroud
Order:  USA  Can
Miramax, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

If Roald Dahl had collaborated with J. K. Rowling, they might have come up with a series like The Bartimaeus Trilogy. It's set in a London ruled by an aristocracy of ambitious, supremely selfish magicians. The British Empire is at war with Prague and English commoners who resent their magical overlords have formed a Resistance. Magicians have forbidden themselves children and instead take on as apprentices those commoners' offspring who demonstrate a talent for magic.

Nathaniel was torn from his parents as a very small child and taken into the household of Arthur Underwood, a Junior Minister in the government and only a 'minor conjurer'. He is typically cruel in his teaching methods, but his wife has always been kind to the boy in their care, whom they believe to have only a small talent. But Nathaniel has been reading and studying far beyond the basic tomes presented to him by his master, and he's after revenge for his humiliation by Simon Lovelace, a powerful magician. Nathaniel summons a demon - well, really a djinni - named Bartimaeus, and tasks him with the theft of the potent 'Amulet of Samarkand' from Lovelace's well protected mansion.

The tale is delightfully told from Bartimaeus' perspective, with regular hilarious footnotes, as in 'One magician demanded I show him an image of the love of his life. I rustled up a mirror.' Since, unlike Nathaniel, I was not in a circle of protection, Bartimaeus easily enchanted me into rooting for his success. We see him summoned by a pale, sweating, wide-eyed, hollow-cheeked, scrawny kid and forced to steal from one of the most powerful magicians in London, definitely not one whose bad side you want to be on! Keeping an eye on all seven planes, he switches form between blackbird, mole, fly, and Egyptian boy in order to do the deed. After grabbing the amulet, he's hunted all night by 'half the demonic hordes of London'.

You have to feel for the poor djinni - executing the boy magician's orders, he's chased and trapped, incarcerated in the Tower of London and almost destroyed, and he has no choice in the matter. It's clear early on that Nathaniel's stumbled into something very big and very dangerous. After Lovelace counterattacks, boy and djinni end up on the run, and find themselves the only ones able to counter a magical attack intended to topple the government, by annihilating most of its members. How they succeed is exciting stuff, and we see Nathaniel growing up just a little, with Bartimaeus as an unusual kind of mentor.

The Amulet of Samarkand hooked me on the series, and I can't wait for more. Nathaniel is basically a good kid, but his upbringing has instilled in him a magician's arrogance and contempt for commoners. This first episode introduced us to the Resistance but gave them only a minor role - I anticipate that we (and Nathaniel) will see more of them in Book Two.

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