The Bartimaeus Trilogy

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.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy

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.


  • […] Also reviewed at: Reading Matters, Grumpy Old Bookman, and Seasonal Plume. […]

  • Hi Allan! Nice to see you here. I review books semi-regularly here on my blog, so you can take a look every once in a while :) As for YA fantasy books (which I assume you mean) my favorites would be Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and Nix’s Abhorsen/Old Kingdom trilogy. HP is also a given, of course. As for Eragon/Eldest/Brisingr, I’ve read the first two and will probably pick up the last as well, but I find them rather flat, nothing very surprising in the plot. I wrote about Eragon on this blog as well :)

  • allan said:

    I’m waiting for the Brisingr book by paolini also. could you recommend other books?

  • allan said:

    another fan of the trilogy here. just stumbled on your site after typing the trilogy on google. tpos pinay pa tlga nagsulat. nice. honestly i haven’t talked about this series with anybody yet. still waiting for my wife to have time and finish the trilogy. tho she really likes bart from the start. just happen to stumble upon the book while browsing NBS. alang powerbooks rito sa Davao eh. hope somebody opens one soon. or hopefully if i win the lotto magfranchise ako. hehe. between ramuthra and nouda….. definitely ramuthra. it took 1 magician to summon nouda ryt?

  • Hehe, it’s not as common as Harry Potter that’s for sure, but I personally liked it a lot — on the same level, or even higher.

  • Suzanne said:

    coool!!!! i thought ako lang at ang cousin ko ang readers ng batrimaeus kaya i encouraged some of my classmates (eh takot ata sa libro and mga yun) hehehehe grabe!!! i love this series!

  • Hi Jennie!

    I have to agree. Most of my friends offline don’t have the same reading interests, so I only get to discuss these things with online friends, if at all. I feel your pain ;)

  • Jennie said:

    Hmmm…It’s nice to know someone has the same reading interest as me. Some of my friends don’t really like those kinds of books (even Harry Potter stuffs). So I just keep it to myself, never discussed it with anyone coz they wouldn’t relate to what I’m telling them anyway unless they’ve the book.

    And since I’m done reading the Potter series, I’m reading Bart trilogy again for the 3rd time. I like Bart’s humor. And I really wanted it to be in film also, with probably Robin Williams as Bart…

  • Oooh, that’s an interesting question. I’ve heard of “who’s more powerful” debates but this is slightly different. In a match between Nouda and Ramuthra, I’d probably go for Ramuthra winning over Nouda.

    In terms of power, Ramuthra’s effects on others was… different. I don’t remember the exact details but it was downright creepy. It’s possible that being inside Makepeace’s body, Nouda’s powers was somewhat hampered, but I doubt it would be greatly limited.

    Additionally, being the rather cunning, charismatic fellow that he is, I highly doubt Makepeace would summon a being as… brute as Ramuthra. Nouda had character, which I think Makepeace would be attracted to. That is, of course, if Makepeace all by himself could summon someone like Ramuthra.

    I guess I’m of the school that there are two types of strengths: either brain power or brute power. There are beings who have both, but even though they may be quite powerful, those who “specialize” on one thing may be more powerful than those who’re both brainy and physically powerful. I think Nouda falls more on the “brainy” side than “brute”.

    Now, I’m usually the sort that would argue that brains would win over brawn any day. But the thing here is, we don’t really know Ramuthra except in the very brief span of time he’s in the book. We know his brute power. But I’m also willing to bet that we probably don’t know the extend of his brains. If he’s half as brainy as Nouda (which I’m willing to bet he must be, even if it’s not apparent in the book) he’d probably win in a showdown.

  • Chris said:

    Hey i was just wondering your opinion. Who would win, Nouda or Ramuthra. Its a puzzler.

  • Yay! :D I’m so glad I found this trilogy. ;)

  • Yay for another Bartimaeus Trilogy fan! :D

  • Hi Brad. :) I haven’t heard about news na gagawa ng movie for the trilogy, pero if they do I wouldn’t be surprised — maganda yung book eh. I haven’t read His Dark Materials yet although nakita ko yun somewhere sa Powerbooks; might try to pick it up next, maybe! :)

  • blog op.. and there u r… akala ko ako lng nagbasa ng bartimaeus trilogy… i like bart…funny shape shifting demon… when i was in london.. the owner of waterstone bookstore told me…gagawin na yata movie ang bart trilogy.. have you read HIS DARK MATERIALS by Philip Pullman? matatapos na movie nyan…si Nicole Kidman ang isa sa character…