The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus Book #1) by Jonathan Stroud

I really liked Stroud’s Lockwood and Co’s series, so I started picking up his older series. The Bartimaeus trilogy is pretty well known, I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet, and I didn’t used to be such a big fan of fantasy. But with his vivid language, great interplay between characters and strong sense of place (London!), I knew I would like any genre he wrote.

Nathaniel is an 11-year-old magician’s apprentice. In London, parents are paid to give their children away to magicians so they can be trained. Magicians are the guardians within the government that protect it. Magicians are not very nice, very pretentious and power hungry even though they are supposed to be protecting England. Magicians have one of the highest jobs. Nathaniel is sad to be abandoned by his family, but he really wants to learn the craft and become a magician. Before apprentices can become magicians, they live at their master’s house and are not given names until they reach a certain level. And they are never to be called by their birth names because then evil magical beings can control them with knowledge of their birth name.

But Mrs. Underwood has a soft spot for Nathaniel and Nathaniel feels comforted being called by his name so he doesn’t object. Nathaniel is working under the horrible Mr. Underwood, who not only is not very good at magic and doesn’t have a good standing in society, but he is also condescending and mean to Nathaniel, calling him stupid and barely letting him do anything magical at all.

One day, when Underwood has his equally jerky magician friends over, Nathaniel is called in as a sort of side attraction to entertain them with his stupidity. Nathaniel is humiliated and sick of being thought stupid, so he gets back at Simon Loveless, Underwood’s friend who humiliated him by sending mites upon him. He is beaten for it and his resolve only grows to get revenge on Loveless.

Now, Nathaniel is kind of bratty and not very nice. His whole motive is based on revenge and humiliating others and proving that he is powerful. All the less, readers will still like him for his courage and matching soft spot to protect Mrs. Underwood. He has a general sense of wanting to do good for the world and protect London, but like all magician’s he is driven to show off his power.

He practices magic in secret because Underwood won’t let him do anything. And Nathaniel is actually quite good at what he does. But he is also naïve. He conjured a pretty high up jinni named Bartimaeus and makes him steal the Amulet of Samarkand, which is a magical relic that was originally stolen from the British government by Loveless. When Nathaniel finds this out, he plans to frame Loveless and give him the ultimate embarrassment of being thrown out of government and into jail.

But plans never go as they should and Nathaniel is still a novice against some of the most powerful magician’s in the country. He finds out what the amulet does, what Loveless plans to do with it, and that murder has been committed to obtain in and realizes that he’s over his head. But, of course, this doesn’t stop Nathaniel on his mission.

Readers will enjoy watching Nathaniel and Bartimaeus’s prickly yet hilarious relationship and the tactics they maneuver to try to save the country from certain destruction.

Read-alikes: Harry Potter, Magyk, Lockwood & Co. series, The Graveyard Book