Thursday's Favorites Spotlight: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud
This was supposed to be posted yesterday, but I was so exhausted that I couldn't spend as much time on writing this as I would have liked. Fortunately, I'm now on vacation, so I have more time to read and post!
So, it's time to talk about another favorite of mine. Today I want to talk about The Bartimaeus Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud.
The Bartimaeus Series
By Jonathan Stroud
# Of Books: 4 (1 trilogy + 1 prequel)
Genre: Children/YA Fantasy
Words To Describe This Book: clever, funny, sardonic, action-packed
It's funny how our memory works. You can remember why you picked up a book when you were a child, but as an adult, you can't recall for the life of you why you decided to read a certain book. I can remember the first book I was ever able to read (Are You My Mother? by Dr. Seuss), but I have absolutely no clue why I decided to try out this series 3 years ago. I know it has something to do with the fact that it was on audiobook, since back then I listened to a lot of my books while I was commuting to work. It also has something to do with the fact that this is a fantasy series. But I have no clear memory of where I had first heard of these books. Was I just perusing the shelves at the library, or did someone recommend this to me? I have no idea.
What I do remember is that I loved this series from the moment I started it back in June of 2011.
The first book, The Amulet Of Samarkand, was very entertaining. Essentially, the premise is an alternate, fantastical reality, where magicians are the ruling class. They are very corrupt, using their magic for political power and monetary gain.
In this world, magicians aren't capable of manipulating magic by themselves. Instead, they get their power by summoning magical beings, and enslaving them to do their bidding. These beings vary in rank and power, from low-level imps to mighty marids, and all are unique, both in personality and magical abilities.
The story is partially told from the point of view of a 5,000-year-old, mid-level djinni named Bartimaeus. He is clever, with a sardonic sense of humor. He hates magicians and looks down on them with contempt. But he also has a conscience. In general, he is an extremely entertaining and loveable character.
The other point of view follows the young magician who summoned Bartimaeus, a boy whose chosen name is John Mandrake, but whose true name is Nathaniel. He's bright, but young, and dead set on revenge against another magician for publicly humiliating him. He, too, has a bit of a conscience, but he is also ambitious and susceptible to the attractions of power and prestige.
I can't go into more detail without revealing too much, but the rest of the book is action-packed and lots of fun. There are no slow spots, you can be sure of that.
The writing style is also very well done. Jonathan Stroud has a talent for keeping things light and comic, and he does an excellent job of describing scenes without going overboard. He's also great at building up a jobke and then delivering the punchline in a scenario, so much so that I kept laughing aloud as I listened-- the images he created were just too funny.
Want to understand what I'm talking about? Here's an excerpt that provides a good example of Jonathan's style and the overall tone of the first novel. It's told from the point of view of the djinni Bartimaeus, and in this part of the story, he's capturing a mail-carrying imp in order to gain more information:
When we were in a remote enough area, I made the change from pigeon to gargoyle; then I swooped down upon the unlucky imp, and bundled us to earth among some scrubby trees. This done, I held him by a foot and gave him a decent shaking.
"Leggo!" he squealed, flailing back and forth with his four clawed paws. "I'll have you! I'll cut you to ribbons, I will!"
"Will you, my lad?" I dragged him into a thicket and fixed him nicely under a small boulder. Only his snout and paws protruded.
"Right," I said, sitting myself cross-legged on top of the stone and plucking the envelope from a paw. "First I'm going to read these, then we can talk. You can tell me what and all you know about Simon Lovelace."
Affecting not to notice the frankly shocking curses that sounded up from below, I considered the envelopes. They were very different. One was plain and completely blank: it bore no name or mark and had been sealed with a small blob of red wax. The other was more showy, made of soft yellowish vellum, its seal had been pressed with the shape of the magician's monogram, SL. It was addressed to someone named R. Devereaux, Esq.
"First question," I said. "Who's R. Devereaux?"
The imp's voice was muffled but insolent. "You're kidding! You don't know who Rupert Devereaux is? You stupid or something?"
"A small piece of advice," I said. "Generally speaking, it isn't wise to be rude to someone bigger than you, especially when they've just trapped you under a boulder."
"You can stick your advice up--"
************(These polite asterisks replace a short, censored episode characterized by bad language and some sadly necessary violence. When we pick up the story again, everything is as before, except that I am perspiring slightly and the contrite imp is the model of cooperation.)
"I'll ask again. Who' Rupert Devereaux?"
"He's the British Prime Minister, O Most Bounteous And Merciful One."
Funny, right? The whole book is like this, with lots of action, and lots of humor in between.
Listening to this on audiobook was especially good. Simon Jones is an excellent narrator, and he acted out Bartimaeus' sardonic voice perfectly. He was even able to narrate the footnotes that are peppered throughout the printed version of book, without losing the overall flow of the story.
After I read the first one, I immediately sought out the next two installments in the trilogy, which get a little darker and more serious than the first, but still manage to keep the comedy. The plot continues to get better and better, and the overall trilogy concludes in a satisfactory way. I really don't have anything bad to say about any of these books, although I will say that my favorite book is the first one by far, mainly because it's the most comedic of the three.
The trilogy isn't the only Bartimaeus book out there. There's also a prequel, which takes place hundreds of years before the events involving Nathaniel and Kitty, and in a different part of the world as well. It was a fun book, and it was great to read about some of the adventures Bartimaeus mentioned in the other novels, but it didn't surpass the trilogy in terms of either humor or plot. It was just another Bartimaeus adventure, really, but it was worth it.
Overall, this series is fun, highly amusing, occasionally dark/serious, and very creative and well-written. The pace is reasonably quick and action-packed, but it's not so fast that you miss important details. And to top it off, there are characters you can love and sympathize with. Basically these stories have everything you could possibly want in a good, entertaining book.
While this trilogy is technically considered a children's book, I would say this is a highly enjoyable read for teens and adults alike. I would recommend it to just about anyone who loves to read about magic. I would also recommend listening to the audiobooks. Like I said, Simon Jones did an excellent job narrating the story.
That's all I have to say about it for now! Happy reading everyone!