Book Review: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Title: Amulet of Samarkand

Author: Jonathan Stroud

Series: Bartimaeus #1

Genre: Middle Grade +

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five and sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.” If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him. Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine. -Goodreads

The Review:

Hands-down this is my favorite middle-grade read since Mull’s Fablehaven series almost two decades ago!

I wish I’d taken the time to write this review right after finishing the book, but at the time I’d been so fired up about the series I dropped everything to pick up the rest of it immediately. The experience was so much fun and reminded me of how I felt as a kid discovering Harry Potter for the first time. While this may not land on quite the same scale (what can?), it’s still an nostalgia-evoking book with enough sophistication to make it accessible for adults.

The footnotes were everything.

I’ve heard people complaining of footnotes in other series, so I was a bit intimidated to start this one, but I can’t imagine the story being as good without them. A lot of the subtle adult humor takes place in the footnotes and they really allow the author to have fun with his characters and give us more depth than we would’ve gotten otherwise.

And speaking of the characters, they were completely delightful, even if not always likable. And the demons – omgsh the demons. They start out as these wildly interesting (and dangerous) enigmas that give you even more reason to keep reading. I also loved learning about summoning demons and watching one of the main characters struggle to get it right. The combination of the magic, world-buildings, and mystery plot made for one of the most enjoyable things I’ve read in ages. And that’s across ALL genres, not just middle-grade books.

Overall if you’re on the cusp of graduating from YA and Middle Grade stories (as I find myself a the ripe age of 37), this one will draw you completely back in and remind you why you keep up the hunt for the good ones. I can’t believe I let this sit unread on my shelves for so many years!

Recommendations: I loved this book so much, I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to capture the magic of reading as a kid again. It has enough adult elements to make it an ideal crossover series. Make sure to do a physical read, however – the footnotes are everything! The audio version includes the footnotes as part of the main narrative, but they blend in too well, taking away half the fun of the series.

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