I’d heard a lot of good things about this book before I took the plunge and it sat on my wish list for quite some time. For whatever reason I never got around to ordering it, but I was finding listening to audiobooks a good way to get through some of the backlog and the unabridged version of The Amulet of Samarkand happened to be available at a seductive price.
Focusing on the exploits of Nathaniel, a young magician apprenticed to a junior minister, it takes place in an alternate universe and centre around London (which, despite being late in the 20th Century, appears more like Victoria-era). Beaten by his master and humiliated by another magician, Nathaniel swears vengeance on them and sets his mind to summoning a powerful djinn, Bartimaeus, capable of doing his bidding. Between them they uncover a plot to overthrow the government and they must team up and use their combined skills to survive.
Bartimaeus is probably more the protagonist than Nathaniel and the story is largely told from his quick-witted, cynical point of view. He hates being summoned by the magicians, especially an upstart boy like Nathaniel and sets his mind to getting one over on him. While he’s not doing that he’s sneaking around in different physical forms, fighting other djinn and escaping by the narrowest of margins.
It’s an interesting take on the magical fantasy, using the existing class divide of the time period with magicians being ‘above’ common folk and ruling the country. It’s also unusual in that the magicians don’t perform magic themselves, but rather summon various spirits who are compelled to do their bidding. This sets up a constant struggle between master and spirit, adding an extra degree of tension.
Ideas like these and other twists and unique takes on old ideas mean the story, largely a revenge which turns into a heroes save the day quest, never strays into the predictable and keeps you interested.
Matched with Bartimaeus’ sly wit and acid tongue it makes for an enjoyable story, whether by book or audio.