The Bartimaeus Trilogy


I’m no good with reviews. But once in a while you come across this amazing book or movie and it’s just very very hard to not talk about it. Very hard, indeed, to not tell people to read it or watch it. Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy may not be in the same league as J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but if you’re a fan of fanfic – rest assured – you will love these books. The imagination is vivid, the plot is non-complicated and above all this, the hero – Bartimaeus – is absolutely AWESOME! I’m no good with superlatives either, so ‘awesome’ will just have to do.

Remember the genie from Alladin’s lamp? Remember ‘I dream of Genie’? Yep, it’s the same kind of genie, only very cheeky and spelt ‘djinni’. Bartimaeus is around 5000 years old. In his own words –

“I am Bartimaeus! I am Sakhr al-Jinni, N’gorso the Mighty, and the Serpent of Silver Plumes! I have rebuilt the walls of Uruk, Karnak, and Prague. I have spoken with Solomon. I have run with the buffalo fathers of the plains. I have watched over Old Zimbabwe till the stones fell and the jackals fed on its people. I am Bartimaeus! I recognize no master. So I charge you in your turn, boy. Who are you to summon me?”

From ‘The Amulet of Samarkand’

To add to the fun, he also talks in footnotes! The author’s style of narration is the first of its kind that I have come across. The narration is partly through the eyes of Bartimaeus himself, and partly as a non-participant of the story. And since Bartimaeus is such an all-knowing, all-seeing, cheeky-and-witty-as-hell djinn, he tells us a lot more about magic and demons using footnotes. And trust me on this – these books are some of the few books where I actually laughed when I was reading them. Example? Here you go –

Situation: Bartimaeus is currently transformed into a fly, doing some eavesdropping. He buzzes too close to the guy and, whup! he’s hammered by a rolled up paper and is left lying on the floor in a daze. He manages to crawl out of the pub into the open street. And what follows is –

Out in the street I kept the pub door in view, while inspecting my tender essence. It’s a sorry state of affairs when a djinni who _________[5] is laid low by a rolled-up piece of paper, but that was the sad fact of the matter. All this changing and being batted about was not doing me any good. Mandrake…It was all Mandrake’s doing. He’d pay for this, first chance I got[6].

[5] Insert achievement of your choice from the following selection: (a) fought the utukku single-handed at the battle of Qadesh (b) carved the great walls of Uruk from the living ground (c) destroyed three consecutive masters by use of the Hermetic Quibble (d) spoke with Solomon (e) other.

[6] Not that I could not do anything to him in my current state. At least, not alone. Certain djinn, Faquarl among them, had long espoused collective rebellion against the magicians. I’d always dismissed this as so much hogwash, impossible to achieve, but if Faquarl had come up to me with some boneheaded scheme right then, I’d have joined him with much high-fiving and inane whoops of joy.

From ‘Ptolemy’s Gate’

Now who wouldn’t like an adorable djinni like Bartimaeus!

The books in the trilogy trace the series of events that happen between Bartimaeus, the magician Nathaniel (aka John Mandrake) and a commoner, Kitty Jones. Nathaniel (which is the magician’s birth name, supposed to be guarded very dearly but which inadvertantly is learnt by Bartimaeus – thereby forming a different relationship between the magician and the demon) summons Bartimaeus for the first time to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from the wicked power-hungry magician, Simon Lovelace. What follows is a game of cat and mouse, with each wanting possesion of the amulet which has the power to absorb any magical attack and protect the wearer. How the plans of Lovelace are thwarted by Bartimaeus and Nathaniel forms the rest of the plot in ‘Amulet of Samarkand’.

In ‘The Golem’s Eye’, Nathaniel is older and is now a government official looking into the activities of a bunch of revolutionary commoners, headed by Kitty Jpnes. Their aim is to overthrow the tyrannical rule of the magicians and form their own ruling mechanism. Bartimaeus and Nathaniel come together again to find and capture Kitty Jones, but before that to get rid of a crazy Golem. I won’t divulge what it is, so go ahead and read the book.

‘Ptolemy’s Gate’ is the second most interesting of the trilogy, the first being ‘The Amulet’. It starts slowly, but gathers pace soon enough and before you know it, you’re having the most amazing rollercoaster ride of a book! We get to know more about Bartimaeus’ past and his relationship with the boy magician Ptolemy in this book. Kitty Jones plays a bigger role in the events and Nathaniel undergoes a life-changing realization when he sees what he has become in the past years.

I wish I could just write the whole story here, for it’s all so exciting and well, awesome. But I refrain. I’d probably murder it in cold blood (which I have succesfully done to a lot of my own so called stories), and that’s the last thing I want to do to Bartimaeus.

There’s magic, there’s humor, there’s action and some tragedy too. No surprises that the Amulet is to be made into a movie. Remember how they killed the essence of Harry Potter with those movies and their half-baked plots? Apparently, Bartimaeus is not an exception.

And before I leave you in peace, one last witty bit from Ptolemy’s Gate – had me laughing in the waiting lounge of an airport, to curious onlookers who probably thought I’d lost it for good!

Thing was, I knew this mercenary. Both times we’d met we’d had a difference of views, and we’d done our best to resolve it in a civilized fashion. But whether I squished him under a statue, blew him up with a Detonation or (as in our last encounter) simply set him on fire and hurled him down a mountainside, he never seemed to suffer the slightest injury. For his part, he’d come annoyingly close to killing me with various silver weapons. And now, just when I was at my weakest, here he was again. It gave me pause. I wasn’t scared of him, ofcourse; dear me, no. Let’s call it judiciously nervous.

As always he was wearing a pair of ancient leather boots, scratched and worn, which positively stank of magic[1]. Presumably, it was these that had triggered my Pulse.

[1]: In contrast to most of my masters (Mandrake’s) shoes, which just positively stank.

Oh, this is just my kind of literature! And as always, don’t let my review bring down your interests in reading the book – forget the review, remember the book! It’s just that I’m amazingly good with words when I have absolutely nothing to say. And always at a horrible loss for words when there’s something very interesting/good/important/useful/creative/intellectual to be said. Yes, I’m weird in that way. And yes, I was born like this.

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13 thoughts on “The Bartimaeus Trilogy

  1. Ah! So you finished reading. About time! πŸ˜‰ But you are nt as jobless as me and you have written an awesome review! I can never write one. Im scared that I would start hating the book after reading my own review! πŸ˜‰
    It was nice to refresh my memory about the books. I loved Amulet. The other 2 were a let down after the fabulous first. I was really addicted to Bartimaeus and wanted the whole book to be about him. What an enchanting creature, huh? Lucky Ptolemy and Nathaniel! (Oops! Is it ok to take his birth name?)

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  2. πŸ™‚ yes, finally finished all 3! And I think it’s pretty ok to use the birth name coz he starts using it himself towards the end, no? whatever!

    BTW, did you know I’ve become a sneaky reader of your blog these days? Just when I think I cant get any more lazier, I do! 😦 and I’m not coming by your blog till you hide that snow post – its burning hot in Hyderabad! and its just not fair that you get snow! 😦

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  3. Tommyrot! Your review was great. How do you explain my burnt lunch, then?
    I got your comment and thought I’d take a quick peek at your review while the pasta was on the stove, and was so caught up in it, that the thing burnt to ash with a few orange blobs that once upon a time was cheese.
    The worst bit, was that I shoplifted the packet from my mum’s cupboard (we both love pasta). Stolen goods are supposed to be the sweetest, they say.
    πŸ˜₯
    Even Brandy wouldn’t touch the stuff.

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  4. Therefore, you owe me a pasta lunch.
    Unless… tell me, would a ten year old be able to enjoy the book? I’d use this scale:
    Lord of the Rings – 15+
    Harry Potter – 8+

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  5. Sure! You gimme the apple pie (I never never forget food owed) and I’ll send you the pasta (which, fyi, I love to bits) πŸ™‚

    And you’re right about the stolen food. It’s even tastier if the stolen contraband is food hidden for the sibling *evil look on face*

    If LOTR is 15+, then Bartimaeus would also be on that level – the plot is simple enough, but one sure needs a sarcastic bend of mind to enjoy the wit and sarcasm!

    Re. your response to my comment on your blog (phew!): If you’re turning 4, then I was born yesterday! πŸ™‚

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  6. And I thought you had forgotten all about the apple pie.
    πŸ˜‰
    You have a sibling too?
    Oh Kindred Spirit, I feel for thee. Life is a constant war between The Rabid Unicorn and myself.
    Especially over pastries. Oh and pasta.

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  7. “awesome ” review ;)(I mean it !!)
    Good thing i read it right now..me planning on going to the library right now..I just hope this book’s hiding out there somewhere in the nook and corner of the library shelf πŸ˜€
    The collage is real good πŸ™‚
    Picasa work ?

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  8. ohk..at last u finished it…..the artwork on the cover looks fab!!..these books are like those of ancient lore rite?? sumwhat like the lord of the rings theme??… i ll see if i get them!!!..

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  9. Princess – Not just pastries and pasta, ALL food 😦 I remember threatening to sue my mom for discrimination when she gave the last egg in the fridge to the brother (‘coz he plays a lot and needs nourishment, indirectly calling me lazy, which though true, does hurt!) I haven’t got the apple pie yet πŸ˜‰

    Nithya – Hallo, ‘awesome’? nakkals of india? πŸ˜‰ Good luck with the library (pity I dont have one here nearby)

    Sharan – Not as historical as LOTR, it’s much lighter and wittier. I liked the different kind of narration a lot.

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  10. Surprisingly, I just wrote a review of the Trilogy…

    I love Bartimaeus… The fellow is just the funniest spirit I have ever come across. And as you said, he has at least one footnote for every year he has been on the earth.

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  11. Are you kidding? The Bartimaeus Trilogy FAR outstrips Harry Potter. Doesn’t even come close. Don’t get me wrong, I love Harry Potter, it’s a great story, but it comes nowhere near the in-depth character development, complex moral themes, philosophical speculation, and raw emotion that exists in the Bartimaeus Trilogy.

    Hmmm..I wouldn’t compare the two.. the styles are very different.. you know what, I dont know which one I like more! Maybe I like them both equally for what they are πŸ™‚ Welcome to TP!

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  12. Priya, I enjoyed reading your review – and laughed out loud again while reading the excerpt about the mercenary’s shoes (got lots of strange looks for that, since I’m at work. Although, with the collection of oddities around me, a stray unexplained laugh shouldn’t have caused the slightest raising of an eyebrow).

    I’m in the strange position of having gotten The Amulet for my daughter while we were visiting India last month (the series somehow doesn’t seem to be as popular in the US) – and finding that she’s decided, in her newly acquired teenage wisdom, that any book that I picked couldn’t possibly be any good.

    So I’ve progressed now from the days of reading aloud to her (The Hungry Caterpillar and Cat in the Hat days) to reading everything she read (Harry Potter, Series of Unfortunate Incidents, …) to finding that I just can’t make it past page 3 of the books she’s reading (Twilight, ugh) and now to the point where she won’t read anything I suggest. Progress, inevitable but somewhat dismaying. I guess I’ll have to wait till our tastes coincide again, if ever.

    But back to Bartimaeus – truly awesome, to plagiarize your review πŸ˜‰
    Loved the wordsmithing throughout the books (the paras where Kitty first confronts Bartimaeus about his connections with Ptolemy were just one example of spectacular imagery and atmosphere) – and the whole setup of the anti-hero Nathaniel
    (evocative of the Harry Potter story told from the point of view of Snape)
    coupled with a genie who puts Robin Williams to shame, and Kitty as a character who lingers on in one’s memories.

    Looking forward to reading more of your reviews …

    Cheers.

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  13. OH MY GOODNESS, you foregot the fight scenes with JABOR!!!!!! Those were positively amazing. The deonations going off and bartimaeus performing heroic feats of agility in an attemptt to heroicly not get his ass kicked. (and using his cunnig to bury jabor under an entire house). Easily out strips Harry Potter, in writing and plot. You ever see the creatures do a back flip and change into a falcon in mind air?

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