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.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Planetside by Michael Mammay

Title: Planetside

Author: Michael Mammay

Series: N/A (…yet)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!!!

The Overview: War heroes aren’t usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it’s something big—and he’s not being told the whole story. A high councilor’s son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated—but there’s no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command. The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won’t come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet—because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there—Butler just has to make it back alive… -Goodreads

The Review:

Planetside is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Everything about it hit the spot. It’s about a semi-retired Colonel who gets recruited to investigate circumstances surrounding a missing lieutenant. Right off the bat I loved the main character. He had a very no-bullshit approach to things, and his dry humor cracked me up constantly. In some ways, he reminded me a bit of both Avasarala (Expanse – she’s the bomb) and John Perry (Old Man’s War), to give you an idea the type of character profile we’re dealing with here. I think Colonel Butler could’ve been just sitting there reading a newspaper and I still would’ve eaten up every moment.

Planetside also offered an interesting mystery to solve, and I particularly enjoyed the intel-gathering aspect of the story. It made me feel involved, and the incremental reveal of each new piece of info was perfectly done. It also did an amazing job building momentum. You all know how much I love that gradually building plot that eventually sweeps you into a headlong careen to the end. Planetside definitely did not disappoint in that regard. I finished the book on a high, ready to go again.

Colonel Butler’s dry humor, as I mentioned, really was the highlight of the book for me. The way he spoke, processed information, and dealt with people sent me into constant giggle fits. I love dry, subtle situational humor and it’s placement was superb. All great components aside, the fact that Planetside amused me so much is probably the main reason it landed itself on my conservative all-time favorites list. I can’t wait to see what Michael Mammay comes up with next!

Recommendations: love sci-fi? Planetside is my new #1 rec for you. I loved everything about this book and will probably be talking about as often as I can for a while. It had the perfect balance of mystery, humor, and action.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Niki’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2015!

top ten tuesday

Okay, I know I missed Tuesday, but this is one of my favorite topics, so I’m doing it anyway:

Niki’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2015!

I’m sure the caliber of authors doesn’t surprise anyone – they’re popular for a reason, after all. What surprises me is how difficult it was to narrow the list down to just ten titles. “Read the best books first, for you may not have the chance to read them all” really is a mantra worth having. It is really difficult to pick a favorite, but if push came to shove, I select Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb.

What were your favorite reads of 2015?

by Niki Hawkes