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.