This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first in the “Bartimaeus Trilogy.”
Arthur Underwood, an average wizard working in England’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, reluctantly takes charge of 5-year-old Nathaniel in order to raise him up as a magician. It is magicians, and the demons they control by their spells, that run the governments of the world. Throughout the years, Underwood barely tolerates the boy, doing only the barest essential teaching necessary to instruct him in magic. But Nathaniel is smarter than Underwood believes, and over the years, he learns spells and magic on his own from books. When another magician embarrasses Nathaniel in front of others, the boy seeks revenge.
It takes Nathaniel a year to learn the spell necessary and gain the confidence needed to conjure a demon or djinni, known as Bartimaeus. When Bartimaeus arrives, he can’t believe he is to be enslaved to a 12-year-old child. Nathaniel orders Bartimaeus to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, the magician who humiliated him.
Bartimaeus succeeds but informs Nathaniel the amulet is more important than the boy realized. Lovelace and his accomplices are desperate to retrieve the talisman before an important event takes place the following week. When Nathaniel orders the djinni to hide the amulet in Underwood’s study, Bartimaeus overhears the boy’s name. It weakens Nathaniel’s ability to control him. So the boy has to make Bartimaeus his hostage. If the demon fails to perform his duty and Nathaniel is harmed in any way, that would prevent him from canceling the spell, and Bartimaeus will have to spend 100 years as the prisoner of a tobacco tin filled with rosemary (an herb detrimental to a demon’s health).
Underwood brings Nathaniel to his first Parliamentary affair. While listening to a speech by the prime minister, Nathaniel sees a youth sneak in from the balcony. Before Nathaniel can shout a warning, the intruder throws an elemental sphere into the audience, releasing elemental imps of fire, water, air and earth, and creating chaos in Parliament. The prime minister escapes unharmed, and Nathaniel learns for the first time of a feared “resistance” to the magicians’ rule by non-magicians within the cities.
Over the next week, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel are embroiled in political intrigue as they discover Lovelace has stolen the amulet in a plot to overthrow the prime minister (also a magician.) The boy and the demon must work together to foil the plot — Nathaniel, because he wants to stop Lovelace, and Bartimaeus because he will be stuck in a tobacco tin if Nathaniel fails. After Bartimaeus escapes from a trap set by Lovelace, he is followed to Underwood’s house. Lovelace confronts Nathaniel’s master, who has no idea that his safe holds a powerful talisman.
Nathaniel confesses his crime to Lovelace in order to save his master and his master’s wife from certain death. He hopes to convince the magician that he knows nothing of the amulet’s true powers (the ability to block its owner from any magical attack). Lovelace takes no chances. Once the amulet is again in his possession, he uses his powers to kill Underwood and his wife. Nathaniel escapes with Bartimaeus’ help, and Lovelace implicates him in the murder.
Bartimaeus and Nathaniel disguise themselves so they can infiltrate a special Parliamentary conference being hosted by Lovelace. Before they can stop him, Lovelace begins his attack. He summons a creature from the Other World, the most powerful of demons, to attack the other magicians. The Amulet of Samarkand protects him from the power of the beast. Bartimaeus and Nathaniel manage to steal back the amulet. Without its protection, the demon turns on Lovelace and eats him. The beast then turns to attack the other magicians, leaving only Nathaniel to recite the complex dismissal spell to banish it back to the Other World. Bartimaeus doubts the young boy’s abilities, but he has no choice but to stand back and watch Nathaniel try as the other magicians fight for their lives. The boy succeeds and returns the Amulet of Samarkand to the hands of the prime minister, where it rightfully belongs.
Nathaniel tells the authorities that it was his master, Underwood, who originally suspected that Lovelace had the amulet. Before he could act on his suspicions, Lovelace attacked and killed Underwood and his wife. Nathaniel is hailed as a hero and sent to live with a new magician master. Bartimaeus insists the boy keep his promise and set the djinni free since he helped stop Lovelace. Nathaniel worries that Bartimaeus will tell other demons his “true” name, but the demon pledges to keep it secret. Besides, if the boy doesn’t set him free, Bartimaeus will tell his new master about Nathaniel’s real role with the amulet. The young magician agrees to send the demon back to his home. Before he leaves, Bartimaeus warns Nathaniel to be wary of his new master and to be careful not to let the powerful magicians rob him of his morality.
The magicians who run the world’s governments derive all their power from the demons they control. The more experienced the magician, the bigger the demon he can dominate, and therefore, the bigger position in the government he holds. Solomon, who is mentioned in the Bible, supposedly controlled 20,000 demons with a magic ring.
The magicians label the demons as wicked and evil, but they are portrayed sympathetically, especially through the character of Bartimaeus. He has been compelled throughout the centuries to help humankind (for good and evil purposes) by the masters who enslave him with their spells. He has served Solomon, Ptolemy, Hiawatha and others over his lifetime. Magicians summon the demons through the use of candles, incense and pentacles drawn on the floor. Bartimaeus explains that there are seven planes of existence. Demons can access all the planes. Humans are oblivious to the demons around them, and magicians can only see the first few planes when using magical devices.
Nathaniel’s parents brought the 5-year-old to the Ministry of Employment, and in exchange for money, they left him there to be trained as a magician. Underwood is a sullen, uncaring father figure who has as little interaction with Nathaniel as possible. Mrs. Underwood is kind and does all she can to make Nathaniel comfortable and feel loved. When the other magicians humiliate Nathaniel, Underwood does nothing to come to his defense. Only the boy’s favorite teacher tries to help, but she is fired for her attempt.
Magicians rule the various governments around the world and are described by Bartimaeus as being egotistical, conniving, self-serving and jealous. The conduct of Simon Lovelace and his accomplices back up this negative view of political leaders.
Bartimaeus and the other demons constantly spout insults at each other and at human beings. The word h— is used along with sucks and the British insult sod.
Although not graphic, the story is filled with many battles and attacks. Demons create explosions to fend off attacks. Bartimaeus turns himself into a crocodile to escape capture and hits two boys in the head with his tail. Bartimaeus is put in a “Mournful Orb” and tortured. If he touches the sides, it will tear out his essence, killing him. His captors continually shrink the orb in size, forcing Bartimaeus to change his shape into smaller creatures to keep from touching the orb.
Nathaniel is hit over the head and beaten by street thugs who steal a magical device from him. Later he concludes they were members of the resistance. A member of the resistance throws an elemental sphere into the audience in Parliament. It injures many magicians. Nathaniel and Bartimaeus knock several people unconscious and steal their clothes as they try to disguise their identities and sneak into the Parliamentary conference. Nathaniel sets off a variety of small explosions as he tries to evade capture. When he releases several at the same time, it causes his pursuer to be thrown headfirst into a wall, killing him. The demon that Lovelace conjures creates a rift between the planes.
Magicians caught near the rift are physically altered, much like how reflections are distorted by fun-house mirrors. Demons caught too close have their essences ripped from them, sucked piece by piece into the abyss. After Lovelace loses the amulet, the beast he has summoned destroys him.
In order to exact some revenge, Bartimaeus contemplates appearing to Nathaniel as a naked woman.
Lying: Nathaniel lies throughout the book to his master, to strangers and to the authorities.
Alcohol: Mrs. Underwood drinks several glasses of champagne at a Parliament ceremony.
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