‘The Bartimaeus Sequence’ by Jonathan Stroud

This is a sequence of four books aimed primarily at junior readers, but as the author tweeted back at me after I told him I had enjoyed his books, “Bartimaeus is for all ages!”

The first book is titled The Amulet of Samarkand. It is set in a world where there is magic. The UK is run by a government comprised of powerful magicians who vie with each other for power. The system of government was set in place by a certain William Gladstone, who, with very powerful magic, had won a war against the magicians of Prague a hundred and fifty years before these stories are set. The magicians rule over a general population made up of ‘commoners’ who are the mundane general public: they have no magic power and not much power of any other kind.

The magicians derive their power from their enslavement of verious levels of demon whom they use to do their bidding. The story starts when an apprentice magician (Nathaniel) summons a ‘djinni’ (Bartimaeus), whom he orders to steal a magical artefact in order to get his revenge on a magician who has publically insulted him. Of course, things turn out to be much more complicated than that and we are soon into a rollicking adventure, partly told by Bartimaeus himself.

I didn’t read this book in the normal way, but listened to the audio book from Audible, superbly read by actor Steven Pacey – a real tour de force. The character of Bartimaeus is the central delight of the book and particularly of Pacey’s narration. The audio book is an abridgement of the original book, but, at over nine and a half hours, is a very solid listen.

So what am I, at over sixty years of age, doing reading a book for children? I've been reading children's books all my life, but I also read adult books, fiction and non-fiction. This may be a fun adventure on the surface, but there is also humour aimed at adults and there is certainly much common sense talked about tyranny as seen through the eyes of a 5000-year-old magical being.

The second book is called The Golem’s Eye. The apprentice magician of the first book has grown into the government man responsible for the tracking down and destruction of the ‘Resistance’, and an unwilling Bartimaeus is back to help him. As Nathaniel tries to increase his influence and minimise that of his colleagues, London suffers a series of powerful magical attacks. The story is told from three points of view – those of Nathaniel, Bartimaeus and the ‘Resistance’. Steven Pacey once again proves a remarkable reader and I would recommend the abridged audio version. The promise of the first book is continued in this second book.

Ptolemy’s Gate is the title of the third book. The excellent writing and excellent narration by Steven Pacey continue and bring the story set in an alternative London to a satisfying conclusion. To say more would spoil things for new readers.

There is a fourth book, a prequel – The Ring of Solomon – set 3,000 years before the action of the first three books. In ancient Jerusalem, Bartimaeus is enslaved to a grasping and ambitious magician. Once again the central delight is the character of the djinni as he struggles to do the bidding of his master, which he knows is not for the best. This time the book is narrated by Jeff Rawle. Warmly recommended. It was good to hear another chapter in the long life of the wily Bartimaeus.

The find out more about these books and others by the same writer, visit the author’s website.

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