Jonathan Stroud is your stereotypical British children’s author, polite and well mannered with a great imagination. In 2003 he published the first book in a planned young adult fantasy trilogy, known as the Bartimaeus Trilogy. In 2004 he released The Golem’s Eye, and in 2005 Ptolemy’s Gate.
While it has never reached anywhere near the bestselling status of say the Harry Potter books, it nevertheless sold very well in Europe and the United States, and yet there are still many fans of the genre who have never heard of this trilogy.
What’s interesting about the Bartimaeus Trilogy is that while it is a similar world to that of Harry Potter, set in Britain with magicians and magic, it takes on a subject matter and questions the status quo and dynamic of this world in ways that J. K. Rowling never did.
In the world of the Bartimaeus trilogy, magicians don’t actually have that much power.
They have all their control and magic from summoning djinn from another world and using them to do magical things, and all the summoning of imps, djinn, and higher level afrits is done through reading incantations from books.
So in this world, the magicians really don’t have that much power. Yet, the magicians control the entire government from Parliament to the prime minister.
And then you have the ordinary people, the “commoners” who are a subjugated people who work in factories and any and all jobs that involve labor. And are meek and always do as they are told, and it comes off as an almost Orwellian dystopia.
Except there are a few that somehow possess some ability to take attacks from magicians and djinn and not be killed by them and that they are able to see on multiple planes. There are seven planes, humans can only see on the first, and magicians with the aid of lenses can see the first three, while the djinn and afrits are on all seven planes. And this group is known as the “Resistance,” as they try to overthrow the magicians and take back control of the country.
And then there’s the nebulous rest of Europe in which you have the east consisting mainly of the Czechs who are warring against the English and have been for a long time, but are now at truce.
This is all part of the backdrop that makes up this unique world invented by Jonathan Stroud.
The first book in the series, The Amulet of Samarkand, focuses on Nathaniel, an eleven year-old boy, who is a magician’s apprentice and expected to do well, but is horribly humiliated by an arrogant magician, Simon Lovelace.
To get his revenge, he speeds up his magic education and summons an ancient and powerful djinn, Bartimaeus, to play some pranks on his Lovelace.
But soon finds himself involved in a much bigger plot at hand, related to the very important amulet of Samarkand. Bartimaeus is also a djinn who has been around for a very long time, since ancient Mesopotamia, and feels like he’s seen it all, many times over, and is therefore a very opinionated fellow, which Stroud has fun with through footnotes and commentary on the events of the book.
In the follow up, The Golem’s Eye, Nathaniel is now a high-ranking official in the government and things take a turn for the worse when it is revealed that a mighty clay golem is making random attacks on London and terrorizing the people.
With the help once again of the irascible Bartimaeus, Nathaniel must get to the bottom of these attacks and stop this golem once and for all.
Readers also learn more of the resistance group through a new character, Kitty.
The trilogy comes to a close with Ptolemy’s Gate, as things are heating up and Britain looks set to go to war with Europe in a series of foreign conflicts, and turns to Bartimaeus once again, giving him less respect than he ever has, and incurring the djinn’s wrath.
Meanwhile Kitty is looking deep into the history of magic and finding something interesting things about a certain Bartimaeus.
Stroud also addresses the interesting netherworld where the djinn and demons exist when they are no longer needed.
And for those new fans wanting some more Bartimaeus after this trilogy, Jonathan Stroud has written another novel featuring this beloved character, published in 2010, called The Ring of Solomon.
Even though the disreputable djinni known as Bartimaeus has been around for millennia, since the time of Gilgamesh, he is once again enslaved by the whim and rules of a cruel master, Khaba. But Khaba, an evil and despicable magician, answers to an even more fearsome master, King Solomon. It’s not so much that Solomon is a terrifying and evil master, but more that he possesses the most powerful ring in history. A single twist of the ring brings about armies of monsters and creatures all in abeyance to Solomon, awaiting his every command. People who disobey Solomon disappear in a flash, never to be seen again.
And yet King Solomon doesn’t have everything he desires. He has set his heart on the Queen of Sheba, but she’s not interested in him, even though he asks for her hand in marriage weekly. Then the Queen learns of a plot by Solomon to cause the destruction of all of Sheba, if she doesn’t agree to marry him. Instead, she decides to send Asmira, her most trained assassin to kill Solomon and steal his ring. Only Khaba also has his sights on the ring and becoming king of all the lands. And, naturally, Bartimaeus gets involved in the whole big mess, partially through no fault of his own, and partially because he totally sticks his nose, feet and hands in wholeheartedly.
Stroud brings the lovable character of Bartimaeus back in this great story of intrigue, deception, murder, and terror, as well as fun, hilarity, and even love. Fans will enjoy reading of Bartimaeus once again, as his vanity knows no limits, in his drive to let everyone know he’s simply the best djinni that has ever existed and even when his essence is in danger, he’s going to be sure to let you know that.
Originally published on Forces of Geek.