I finally read and finished The Bartimaeus Trilogy a few weeks back, due to recommendations of friends. The trilogy, written by Jonathan Stroud, is made up of the books The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, and Ptolemy’s Gate; it follows three principal characters, all of them coming from different backgrounds in life: Nathanial (also known as John Mandrake), blessed to be raised as a ruling-class wizard; Bartimaeus, a long-lived djinn of the fourth level; and Kitty, a magic-immune commoner girl chafing under the highfalutin wizards. They way these three characters interact and affect each other’s lives (and the world they live in) is both real and otherworldly: they draw you in even if they exasperate you plenty of times.
I can’t rightfully say which character is the best for me; they’re all portrayed with wonderful depth, drawing you in with their (usually suppressed) emotions. The book jumps from the perspective of one major character to the next, the narrator focusing on him; the difference is that when we’re seeing events through Bartimaeus’ point of view, the book shifts to a first-person POV. I feel that this is an ingenious way of differentiating Bartimaeus from the human characters; the book also makes use of footnotes to implicitly express the nature of Bartimaeus: in Stroud’s world, the djinn (and other beings) are able to see other planes of reality, while humans can only see one plane. In the same way, djinnn can think different thoughts at a single point in time, while humans, the oh so sluggish humans, can only think one thought at a time. The Bartimaeus chapters are then peppered with footnotes whenever Bartimaeus thinks of a rather interesting quip or trivia that he wishes to express.
The books are largely adventure novels, with much of the emotion either artfully suppressed or even obscured by the character itself — but Stroud still gives the reader just a glimpse into the true wealth of feeling the character is going through. The result is hauntingly real. Case in point: Bartimaeus and Nathaniel hate each other. That couldn’t be any clearer, but then we have this scene:
The golem…moved again. Its watch-eye glittered, swiveled, fixed upon Mandrake… “Looks like Mandrake’s for it.” Bartimaeus’s voice was neutral, matter-of-fact.
Kitty shrugged and began to inch after Jakob, along the edge of the wall…. “You won’t help him?”
“I’m powerless against the golem. Besides,…if Mandrake dies, I go free. It’s hardly in my interest to help the idiot out.”
Kitty…bit her lip and turned away.
“I don’t have free will most of the time, you see,” the demon said behind her loudly. “So when I do, I’m hardly likely to act in a way which injures myself, if I can help it. That’s what makes me superior to muddled humans like you. It’s called common sense. Anyway, off you go…it’s refreshing to see you doing exactly what I would do and getting out while the going’s good.”…
“Mandrake wouldn’t have helped me,” she said.
“Exactly. You’re a smart girl. Off you go and leave him to die.”…
“Oh, hell.” Then Kitty was running…
Without Bartimaeus doing his own bit of reverse psychology, Kitty wouldn’t have even looked back and worry about what happens to Nathaniel/John Mandrake. And what he says is true — djinn (and other beings) wouldn’t think twice about being freed from bondage to their masters, and they have been known to devour their hapless masters if there were flaws in the spellwork during their summoning. But why attempt to goad a girl to try and help his master?
(There are plenty other examples, but this one first came to mind and the other one was a bit too spoilery.)
I think the highest praise I can give this book is to say that while I’ve read quite a number of YA fantasy, and I enjoy it, it’s seldom that I am moved to tears by anything in the book. I’ve never cried over anything in the Harry Potter books, for example, for all that they’re enjoyable reads. But with The Bartimaeus Trilogy, I myself was quite surprised afterwards that the book has affected me as much as it did. The characters were so real to me, they frustrated me and made me hope and made me love them, for all their human (or djinn) frailty.
This is not your regular YA adventure fantasy. It’s funny, it’s entertaining, it’s enjoyable, it’s insightful, and it’s bound to grab at your heartstrings.