The Bartimaeus Sequence

It’s good to know that some of the books of my childhood/early teen years still hold up after a decade. I recently decided to re-read Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus books and I’m happy to report that they’re just as good as they were the first time.

Featuring Bartimaeus, a wise-cracking djinn; Nathaniel, a clever and ambitious magician; and Kitty, a street-wise commoner, the books take place in an alternate London (aka my favourite city) where magicians are in power, demons are slaves, and the commoners are just trying to get by. 

Woman, man, mole, maggot – they’re all the same, when all’s said and done, except for slight variations in cognitive ability.

The first book, The Amulet of Samarkand, sees 12 year old Nathaniel, just barely done his magician training and already summoning a powerful demon - Bartimaeus, who often leaves sarcastic asides in footnotes (always read the footnotes when you're reading Bartimaeus. Some of the best lines can be found there). Together, the two are able to stop a plot to take down the British government, granting Nathaniel a job and Bartimaeus freedom from his snot-nosed employer. A couple of years later, the two are reunited in The Golem's Eye

The second book has never been my favourite. Kitty, who is briefly introduced in the first book, has a bigger role, and, while I like her, her parts in The Golem's Eye makes the rest of the book drag. I also find that she's not as engaging as the heroine in Stroud's other series, Lockwood & Co - I absolutely adore Lucy (side note: it helps that I hardcore ship Lucy/Lockwood whereas Nathaniel and Kitty don't have as much obvious chemistry). 

Strong characters of their sort tend to gravitate together. Pride has a part to play in it, and other emotions too. Neither wishes to fail; each redoubles their effort to impress. Things get done - but not always the right things or not always the things expected. and there’s not much you can do to stop it.

Of course, at the end of the day, you just have to trust in Stroud's narrative instincts; however long The Golem's Eye felt, it was all necessary for the events in the final book, Ptolemy's Gate. And I don't want to spoil anything, but if you, like me, enjoy the occasional unhappy ending, Stroud delivers; I remember crying the first time I read it, and I definitely teared up again even though I was prepared for it. It does, admittedly, make me a little fearful of how the Lockwood books will end because I just KNOW something tragic will happen.

The books are well written, fast paced (for the most part), and highly enjoyable. I loved them when I was thirteen, and a decade-plus later, they're still just as good as they were then. If anything, I think I appreciate them even more now for not holding back and having a slightly more mature tone than a lot of middle grade/YA fantasy novels.

There's also a "prequel" book, The Ring of Solomon, which is worth a read, if only to get your fix of Bartimaeus' signature wit and charm.