I know what the problem is, actually — this book came out in 2003, which is pretty well smack-dab in the middle of Harry Potter Mania, and therefore I couldn’t possibly have heard of it, what with all of the HP fans living in my house at the time. (No joke, the ratio of people in my family to copies owned between us of one HP book from the series is less than one.)
The Amulet of Samarkand is also about magic, you see, except that it is not at all the same as the magic in the HP world. In this world, magicians are almost wholly a terrible people, swooping into big cities and subjugating those without magic powers and assuming a rather Slytherin air toward pretty much everything. But the irony here is that even though the magicians claim to have all of this magic power, what it really is is that they have the power to summon up demons (daemons? I don’t know, I listened to this book) that have the actual magical ability, and then the magicians just enslave them for however long they like to do their bidding. That’s a lovely thing, isn’t it?
So, the conceit is dark and awful and also awesome (in the strict sense of the word, because seriously, wow), and then Stroud goes and upends my fantasy-reading sensibilities by making everything that happens quite un-fantastic. There is no deus ex here; if it looks like things are going to go badly for the protagonist, they will. If it looks like they’re going to go reasonably well, they will. So many times while listening to this book I thought, “Oh, now the author will reveal some great and/or terrible secret that retcons everything,” because that is my training, but no, all of the crazy twists and turns I invented were totally ignored, because Stroud is a better writer than I.
Oh, what’s the story, you say? Well, basically Our Protagonist, Nathaniel, is a magician’s apprentice who aspires to greater heights but effs the eff up when he decides to summon a hilarious demon called Bartimaeus to go steal something for him. The stealing goes awry, and then it turns out that what was stolen is WAY more important than imagined, and then of course the stealee is not pleased.
It’s a pretty standard plot. But Stroud’s writing and Bartimaeus’s awesomeness and the consequences that could actually happen to an actual person are the most important bits. Oh, and the audiobook narrator is fantastic. Highly recommended.
Recommendation: Read this if you like fantasy but want a little more realism with your magic.
(A to Z Challenge)