The Amulet of Samarkand – Book Review

Book: The Amulet of Samarkand
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Year: 2003

The brilliant Bartimaeus in one of his forms

The Amulet of Samarkand was the first in the three book series by Jonathan Stroud. This was chosen by Bookhad as the book for the month of August 2012. As the new revamped group saw more participation and discussion it was like a new start for us. And the book did justice to start with, if not with bangs and smoke screens, at least with sniggers. Lots of it, mind you.

Now don’t mistake it as an out and out comedy. Although its USP most definitely is the sarcastic dialogue delivery by the Djinn, Bartimaeus. Yes, Djinn. The book is based in the modern magical London where demons and Djinn are a common enough sight. Sights of the magicians though. The commoners, non-magical folks, only know they exist and are controlled by the elite magicians. Set up in modern times and dealing with magic and not being Harry Potter?

Yes. The Amulet of Samarkand can easily be bracketed into the teen-fantasy genre. Although to add humour as a worthy tag wouldn’t be a bad enough idea. Enough said.

Nathaniel (his real name) is an apprentice under a below average magician master. This is in essence why and where the story takes off. Nathaniel is too good. Too good for his own, some might say. At least Mr. Underwood (his master) thinks so. Nathaniel picks up spells and charms with disarming ease. He works hard for it. If there’s one thing you cannot blame Nathaniel for it would be hard work. He puts in the effort. It is because of his hard work NOT paying off in the form of compliments and adulation from his master that Nat decides to take things in his own hands. He bites off more than he can chew.

On a chance encounter with a certain Simon Lovelace, a powerful magician, Nathaniel talks with a nonchalance which Lovelace cannot fathom. To be honest Nathaniel IS a little too loose mouthed and a bit big headed. Lovelace, being a top class magician, cannot accept to be spoken to like that. Nathaniel is punished, rather harshly in full view of his tutor (whom he adores) and his master who, incidentally, just watches him being humiliated.

It is then that Nat realises that his master is nothing short of a bumbling fool. To massage his ego and to correct the wrong Nat summons a Djinn of great repute.

Enter Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus bad mouths him the moment he is summoned. The story begins with Barty describing Nathaniel in a variety of disparaging verbs and with the coolness of a demon who doesn’t appreciate being ordered around by a weedy kid! No matter what Nat does the bad mouthed Djinn is something that he cannot control. Bartimaeus is charged to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from the study of Simon Lovelace which is supposed to be of great worth. Worthy enough for Lovelace to get people murdered!

Irrespective of Bartimaeus’ scathing comments and sarcastic ways of talking to Nat he after all agrees. Obviously others are interested in it. Bartimaeus and Nathaniel fight all odds and uncover a political war within the governments’ highest echelons and they succeed in the full view of the Prime Minister resulting in the death of Simon Lovelace and his accomplices.

Apart from the Amulet’s robbery and recovery and usage there are certain scenes going on in the background which comes up later in the series. The Resistance, for example, is at the fore front of these scenes. They are a group of individuals who, although being non-magical, can resist magic in one form or another. From being able to see through the disguise of a demon to being able to fight off minor, sometimes great, magic attacks the Resistance is a crew of differentiated capability whose main aim is to bring about the downfall of the magician’s rule. There is a lot of the Resistance later on.

The book is totally about the Djinn, Bartimaeus, and his verbal assault of his master which, trust me, makes for a hilarious experience. The author has used postscripts to add a convincing bit of magical history and to further the brilliance of Bartimaeus’ character. Personally speaking I’d say that the idea of such audacious use of postscripts adds to the reading experience. Bartimaeus is a very vocal and verbose and pretty much graphical in his dialogue delivery.

We liked!

There are other minor characters apart from Nat and Barty but by far the first book is dealing with these two extensively. For some one who is within the age group of 13-21 and hasn’t read Harry Potter, for reasons unknown I might add, this is a pretty good book to start with. The Bartimaeus Series promises to be something worth investing in. The language is simple, no flourishes and splendorous whoops, no extra concentrated dose of unreadable words, no gibberish Latin phrases and no soppy romance. Read it and devour Barty’s humour to the fullest!

Interesting Quotes:

  • That did it. I’d gone through a lot in the past few days. Everyone I met seemed to want a piece of me: djinn, magicians, humans…it made no difference.I’d been summoned, manhandled, shot at, captured, constricted, bossed about and generally taken for granted. And now, to cap it all, this bloke is joining in too, when all I’d been doing was quietly trying to kill him.
  • Minor magicians take pains to fit this traditional wizardly bill. By contrast, the really powerful magicians take pleasure in looking like accountants.
  • Jabor finally appeared at the top of the stairs, sparks of flame radiating from his body and igniting the fabric of the house around him. He caught sight of the boy, reached out his hand and stepped forward. And banged his head nicely on the low-slung attic door.
  • The bristling eyebrows shot up in mock surprise. Mesmerized, the boy watched them disappear under the hanging thatch of white hair. There, almost coyly, they remained just out of sight for a moment, before suddenly descending with a terrible finality and weight.



-Siddiqui F.

4 thoughts on “The Amulet of Samarkand – Book Review

Add yours

  1. //Nathaniel (not his real name)//

    Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t Nathaniel ACTUALLY his real name?

    Coming back to the review, I agree to a great extent with it. I would have liked to a see a rating on the book though, and a few recommendations if possible. But, a nice review nevertheless 🙂

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