I am reading, well actually listening to, The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1) by Jonathan Stroud and have looked for a Christian review of the book. Having found none, I offer this.
As yet another fantasy genre series following in the wake of Harry Potter, this book spins an almost believable tale of depraved modern-day magicians governing Britain with a despotic lack of mercy and/or thought of redemption. The similarity between this book and the normal orphaned hero tale so prevalent today, feature an orphaned protagonist suddenly thrust into an alternate coexisting paradigm suffering at the hands of an imperious order, a corrupt Nineveh-an government and a silent strangely distracted family. But if the reader wants another winning hero who withstands a heaping dose of pestilential vice only to vanquish the oppressor and ensure a happy whole world, he won’t find it here. Instead, this series’ protagonists are contentious at best. The book varies its points of view between a witty and occasionally savagely sarcastic close first person demon or djinni (as Batimaeus prefers to be defined) and a slightly removed third person apprentice magician, young Nathaniel Underwood.
While in Bartimaeus’ point of view the reader reels through centuries of history, myth and legend overlain with a delightful snort at human Babel. Both the cloud of witness and the cloud of arrogance can be picked from the footnotes in Bartemaues’ teeth. Don’t skip them. As a reader these little segues prove cumbersome, but well worth the effort. As a writer they seem perfectly kitschy and in character with Bartimaeus.
Nathaniel’s point of view is wrought with anxiety and impatience and any other fruits of the flesh that might characterize an abused muddled tween. Nathaniel’s humble salvation occurs through terrible remorse at his step mother’s death, which he awkwardly confides to Bartimaeus. To his credit, Bartimaeus notes the tiny treachery (love having no place in any magician’s heart) with grudging respect and even curiosity.
The book ultimately rests on the question of redemption. Will Nathaniel withstand the barrage of hedonistic temptations that he gains as nemesis of his enemy, that is, if he survives? Will he snatch grace from the clutches of revealed original sin, or succumb to despair and churlish survival at the hands of it?
In the end the first book of the trilogy proves delightful, well-written and suitable for any tween with a healthy sense of his own Baptism. I do not recommend this book for ages younger than twelve, though I realize that goes against its marketing. Finally, this book does not deal so much with the war of the principalities as the revelation of the tower of Babel that is all sorcery. This book peels the smelly onion of mankind’s feeble attempts at divinity as well as our ever-present arrogance and cheek for having tried. I recommend a parent read it before offering it to any child under the age of fifteen as it will provoke questions regarding original sin and atonement. I will review the second book when I finish it and post here.