English author of puzzle books, juvenile nonfiction, and juvenile and young adult novels.
The following entry presents an overview of Stroud's career through 2006.
Stroud's popular "Bartimaeus Trilogy" of young adult novels has attracted frequent comparisons to the J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and has garnered critical acclaim for its complex characterization, dark, edgy narration, and success in subverting fantasy genre expectations. Set in a modern world where politically motivated "magicians" hold elite positions due to their ability to control demons and imps, the three novels in the series—The Amulet of Samarkand (2003), The Golem's Eye (2004), and Ptolemy's Gate (2005)—relate the adventures of a young magician's apprentice and the "djinni" (or genie) Bartimaeus who begrudgingly aids him. The novels in the "Bartimaeus Trilogy" eschew the normative fantasy genre stereotype of the altruistic wizard by casting its magicians as part of a vain, powerless elite who exploit the abilities of a demonic slave caste to wield power over average citizens, adding levels of ambiguity and complexity to the texts that many fantasy works for young readers generally avoid. The first book in the trilogy, The Amulet of Samarkand, has received a notable book citation from the American Library Association, a top ten fantasy books for youth citation from Booklist, and a Horn Book/Boston Globe Award honor citation.
Stroud was born on October 27, 1970, in Bedford, England, the son of a civil engineer and a history teacher. From a young age, he began writing his own fantasy game-books, comics, poetry, and plays. Stroud attended the University of York, where he studied English literature, graduating with a B.A. in 1992. From 1994 to 1998, he worked as an editor for children's book publisher Walker Books Ltd. in London, where he was encouraged to write as well as edit. His first published work, Justin Credible's Word Play World, a children's picture puzzle book illustrated by Caroline Holden, was published by Walker Books in 1994. Stroud's next two books, The Lost Treasure of Captain Blood: How the Infamous Spammes Escaped the Jaws of Death and Won a Vast and Glorious Fortune (1996) and The Viking Saga of Harri Bristlebeard: A Heroic Puzzle Adventure (1997), are also picture puzzle books. In 1998 Stroud began working as an editor for Kingfisher Books, which subsequently served as the publisher of several of his later works. In the fall of 2001, Stroud quit his job as editor in order to work full time on the writing of The Amulet of Samarkand, his first juvenile novel, while his wife Gina, a book designer, supported him. Stroud lives in Hertfordshire, a suburb of London, with his wife and two children.
One of Stroud's first publications, The Lost Treasure of Captain Blood, illustrated by Cathy Gale, is a picture puzzle book in which a crew of pirates gets the better of a group of villains. The puzzle element of the story is that each page presents a question or puzzle that the child is encouraged to answer or solve, although this is not necessary to following the story. The plot of the similarly formatted The Viking Saga of Harri Bristlebeard, also illustrated by Cathy Gale, concerns a quest to retrieve a magic banner stolen by a dragon, while each page presents questions based on simple riddles or visual observations. Stroud's first novel for young readers, Buried Fire (1999), follows two brothers, Michael and Stephen MacIntyre, their sister Sarah, and a local priest who discover a dark secret entombed beneath their quiet English village. His next work, The Leap (2001), tells the story of a girl named Charlie whose best-friend Max drowns in a mill-pool, though, after a series of bizarre dreams, Charlie comes to believe that something more supernatural is to blame for Max's disappearance. In 2003 Stroud published The Siege, a minimalist fantasy about three friends who allow their imaginations to run wild in the ruins of an abandoned caste.
Released that same year, The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in the "Bartimaeus Trilogy," is narrated from the dual perspectives of a young magical novice and Bartimaeus, a five-thousand-year-old djinni who is given to speaking in sarcastic wisecracks and haughty, humorous footnotes. In Stroud's fantastic alternate reality, the modern-day British Empire is run not by politicians but by magicians. Humiliatingly for Bartimaeus, the djinni has been summoned to this enchanted London to serve a twelve-year-old apprentice to one such magician. This apprentice, named Nathaniel, needs Bartimaeus's help to get revenge on one of London's most powerful magicians, Simon Lovelace, who has humiliated Nathaniel in public. The proper form of revenge, Nathaniel decides, involves stealing one of Lovelace's magical trinkets, the Amulet of Samarkand, which protects its bearer from others' spells. Stealing the amulet proves trivially easy for Bartimaeus, but this act sets in motion a series of other potentially dangerous events. Not everyone is happy with the magicians' oligarchical, nondemocratic government, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel discover, and now some of them are plotting to overthrow it, much to Nathaniel's dismay.
The Amulet of Samarkand was followed by The Golem's Eye, which picks up the action two years later. Nathaniel has graduated from his apprenticeship and is now a full-fledged member of the magical government, with a post in the Department of Internal Affairs. In this position, Nathaniel is responsible for quashing resistance to the government, which is quite a challenge at this time. Besides the Resistance movement Nathaniel and Bartimaeus stumbled into in The Amulet of Samarkand, a mysterious magician within the government has turned traitor and summoned a golem bent on destroying the city of London. Plus, a psychopathic afrit—an evil demon—has taken up residence in the skeleton of a famous wizard. A third major character is added in The Golem's Eye: Kitty Jones, a teenage member of the Resistance who was introduced in The Amulet of Samarkand. She is impervious to magic, a gift with which she was born, and events in her past have made her a motivated and effective leader of the Resistance. In alternating chapters, Kitty and Nathaniel provide readers with two radically different perspectives on the government and the morality of resistance to it. Although Bartimaeus is still magically enslaved to Nathaniel, by the end of The Golem's Eye, it is clear that his sympathies lie with Kitty and the Resistance, not with his master. The djinni has no fewer reasons than the oppressed commoners to hope for the end of the magicians' government and his freedom.
Critics have seemed compelled to make comparisons between Stroud's "Bartimaeus Trilogy" and Rowling's Harry Potter series, both of which center around a young, orphaned magician-in-training. Michelle Pauli has noted, "Jonathan Stroud is the latest in a long line of children's authors to be blessed—or burdened—with that hopeful publisher's tag, ‘the next J. K. Rowling.’" However, Pauli has also remarked that The Amulet of Samarkand is "a darker and more rumbustious read than Rowling's Potter stories, with a wickedly satirical edge." Stroud has won particular praise from readers and reviewers for his ability to subvert the many expectations and stereotypes of the popular "magician's apprentice" fantasy genre. Noted fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones, in her review of The Amulet of Samarkand, has stated that, "[w]hat makes this book so unusual is the way Jonathan Stroud has upended the various traditions he draws on…. Stroud has turned the well-known tradition of the magician's apprentice, the boy who attempts to perform his master's magic on his own, upside down." Many critics have also commented on the complex characterizations in the "Bartimaeus Trilogy," noting how Stroud paints his ostensible protagonist Nathaniel as a morally ambivalent figure who, often times, fails to attract the reader's sympathy. Suzi Feay has remarked that Nathaniel is "an intriguingly flawed boy, but Stroud has no interest in creating a two-dimensional hero, or in flattering his juvenile readers, which gives his novel quite a sharp tang." The subsequent books in the trilogy have attracted similar praise. Reviewers have particularly praised the further development of Kitty in The Golem's Eye, with Timnah Card commenting that, "Resistance fighter Kitty, introduced in the first volume and now forced into action as a major player in the struggle for power, infuses the tale with moral complexity as she consistently chooses idealistic heroism over practical self-preservation, winning Bartimaeus's admiration and providing the more easily corruptible Nathaniel with both a foil and a reason to doubt the wisdom of his own choices." Reviewing Ptolemy's Gate, Martha V. Parravano has lauded Stroud's conclusion to the "Bartimaeus Trilogy," asserting that, "Stroud builds to a thrilling, inventive climax. The final scene manages to take the reader completely by surprise and yet seem, in retrospect, inevitable: a stunning end to a justly acclaimed trilogy.
Justin Credible's Word Play World [illustrations by Caroline Holden] (puzzle book) 1994
The Lost Treasure of Captain Blood: How the Infamous Spammes Escaped the Jaws of Death and Won a Vast and Glorious Fortune [illustrations by Cathy Gale] (puzzle book) 1996
The Viking Saga of Harri Bristlebeard: A Heroic Puzzle Adventure [illustrations by Cathy Gale] (puzzle book) 1997
Buried Fire (juvenile novel) 1999
Sightseers: Ancient Rome—A Guide to the Glory of Imperial Rome (juvenile nonfiction) 2000
The Leap (juvenile novel) 2001
*The Amulet of Samarkand (young adult novel) 2003
The Last Siege (juvenile novel) 2003
*The Golem's Eye (young adult novel) 2004
*Ptolemy's Gate (young adult novel) 2005
*These titles make up the Bartimaeus Trilogy.
Jonathan Stroud and Martha Irvine (interview date 24 November 2003)
SOURCE: Stroud, Jonathan, and Martha Irvine. "Is Bartimaeus the Next Harry Potter?" Seattle Times (24 November 2003): E5.
[In the following interview, Stroud discusses The Amulet of Samarkand with a group of children at a book-signing event in Illinois.]
Naperville, Ill.—Jonathan Stroud stands before his young bookstore audience with colored markers and big pad of paper. He wants to know what they think a traditional magician looks like.
"Tall, pointy hat," one girl says.
"Long beard," says another.
"Right!" Stroud says, quickly adding each component to his drawing.
And that, he tells them, is exactly the sort of magician he didn't want in his new book, The Amulet of Samarkand, the first installment in what he's calling the Bartimaeus Trilogy.
Some in the book world see so much promise in the series that they've deemed it "the next ‘Harry Potter.’" The first book recently released both in Stroud's native England and the United States is already being turned into a movie by Miramax Films, sister company to the Disney affiliates that are publishing the book in this country.
Stroud, a 33-year-old author who lives just outside London, is well aware of the inevitable comparisons to J. K. Rowling's wildly popular "Harry Potter" series. As a former children's book editor, he knew magic was a hot topic when he began writing this book.
"The problem was wanting to do something different," he says of the idea, which came to him as he walked home from work in the rain one evening more than two years ago.
Out of the Blue
"I was trudging along, feeling very depressed about life, carrying heavy shopping bags," he tells his young audience. And then the idea and book's main characters came to him.
After arriving home, he sat down and almost immediately wrote the first three chapters "It all just came out of nowhere."
The magicians in his story are, in fact, the bad guys.
"And they look something like this," Stroud tells the audience, flipping his paper pad to a new page and drawing another figure. The crowd of young people and parents who've gathered at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., smile and laugh.
This time, the magician is a youngish man in a business suit, carrying a briefcase. His name is Simon Lovelace, and he's the book's main villain. "I suspect he has all kinds of evil traits," Stroud says with a smirk.
The protagonists are Nathaniel, a young apprentice magician who wavers between doing good and evil, and Bartimaeus, a "djinni" or, in the Western world, a "genie." But Bartimaeus is no eager-to-please do-gooder flowing out of a bottle.
Stroud, a tall, dark-haired chap with a friendly face, had a cheeky glint in his eye when he sat down to discuss his book in an interview with The Associated Press.
"I wanted my ‘djinni’ to be tougher," he says of the shape-shifting Bartimaeus, who can appear as anything, from a bird or human being to a slithering puff of smoke. "He's not a virtuous goody-goody. He's a slightly more edgy portrayal of a hero."
And an unlikely hero at that. Narrating some of the story himself, Bartimaeus is a cocky, larger-than-life personality whom Nathaniel conjures up in the book's first chapter. Nathaniel orders Bartimaeus to steal an amulet necklace from Lovelace, a powerful and pompous figure who humiliated him when he was a young boy. And the adventure moves on from there.
"At the point I started writing, I didn't even know what the amulet did," Stroud says, and he's not about to tell. You'll have to read the book.
Writing children's books full time was something he'd thought about doing since graduating from the University of York with a degree in English literature in 1992. He wrote in his spare time, publishing three children's books in England. But The Amulet of Samarkand was his first try at writing fantasy, and was the book he thought might give him his big break.
Shortly after dashing out the first chapters in fall 2001, Stroud decided to leave his editing job. He gave himself a year to "make good" while wife Gina, a book designer, supported the couple.
Stroud's agent began circulating those first few chapters. And when Jonathan Burnham, Miramax Books' editor-in-chief, read them, he immediately hopped on a plane from New York to London to take part in a bidding war for the American rights to the book and movie.
"There was something about the writing that woke me up. He's funny and quirky," Burnham says of Stroud. "The quality of the prose is really the very, very best. It's like the very best adult fiction."
Burnham believes the book will appeal both to adults and children. And that's why he was willing to offer a "substantial six figure deal" for both the book and the movie.
The first print run for the book was 100,000, 25,000 more than The Thief Lord, the debut novel by German author Cornelia Funke. Her book, billed by some as last year's "next ‘Harry Potter,’" has sold a half-million copies and had a consistently strong presence on The New York Times list of children's best sellers. This year, Funke released the first of her own trilogy, titled Inkheart.
So though his book is already being readied for its third print run Stroud has some hefty competition.
Meanwhile, the screenplay for his book is already in the process of being written, with hopes of having a movie out by early 2005. Hossein Amini, who wrote the Academy Award-nominated screenplay for The Wings of a Dove, is writing the script.
So far, The Amulet of Samarkand has been a hit with many reviewers.
One compared it to Gulliver's Travels because of its political undertones. (Some see the book as a critique of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, though Stroud said he never intended that.) Others critics say too much is being made of the Harry Potter comparisons.
"Despite a few basic similarities, The Amulet of Samarkand is more than just a Harry Potter wannabe," said one reviewer from Australia's Sydney Morning Herald. "Nathaniel fills the basic Harry Potter, new-to-magic, young-orphan requirements, but … it's the deviations that make things interesting. Hell-bent on revenge, Nathaniel is not a noble kid and, like his power-hungry adversaries, he is willing to use and abuse to get what he wants."
Megan Coley, an 11-year-old who came to Stroud's reading in Naperville, says she thinks the book might be too complicated for readers younger than her. But she says older kids will like the book "because of the characters and the setting."
"I think that Bartimaeus will be close to or as big as Harry Potter, but not bigger," says Megan who "can't wait for the second book to come out."
Stroud says the trilogy's second installment will focus more on Bartimaeus and Kitty, a girl who is neither magician nor djinni.
With his deadline fast approaching, he's been lugging his second manuscript cross country during his book tour, trying to find a few spare moments to read and edit it.
Jonathan Stroud and Michelle Pauli (interview date 12 January 2004)
SOURCE: Stroud, Jonathan, and Michelle Pauli. "Airy Escapes." Guardian Unlimited (online edition) http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/sciencefiction/story/0,,1121611,00.html (12 January 2004).
[In the following interview, Stroud discusses his conception of the central characters in The Amulet of Samarkand.]
Jonathan Stroud is the latest in a long line of children's authors to be blessed—or burdened—with that hopeful publisher's tag, "the next J K Rowling".
His children's book, The Amulet of Samarkand, is a page-turning tale about a young boy apprentice in a magical world which has garnered a US film and rights deal of £1.3m, but there the comparison ends.
For a start, Stroud is no newcomer to the scene. He has worked in children's publishing for a number of years, and Amulet is his fourth children's book. It is also a darker and more rumbustious read than Rowling's Potter stories, with a wickedly satirical edge.
The first volume in a trilogy, Amulet is set in an alternate England ruled by corrupt magicians who summon demons—djinn—to do their bidding. Nathaniel, from whose perspective half the story is told, is an 11-year-old apprentice to a cruel magician politician. Behind his master's back, he succeeds in summoning a djinni, Bartimaeus, and concocts a plan to seek revenge. The wise-cracking Bartimaeus narrates the other half of the tale.
This reversal of the traditional magical narrative was the starting point for Stroud's conception of the series. He explains that the idea for the book came to him very clearly.
"I was strolling along one wet October Saturday, thinking about fantasy fiction and how to get a new angle on it. My first thought was that instead of having a story in which all magicians were good—there are already lots of Dumbledores and Gandalfs out there—it would be unusual to have a story in which most magicians were fairly corrupt and in a position of power, ruling over society."
"I decided that to further make it different, the narrator would be a djinni who is enslaved to one of these magicians. So you reverse the normal case whereby the human magicians are the heroes; here they are the evildoers and the poor old demon is in fact the guy we identify with."
Bartimaeus is indeed the most appealing character in the book. By turns pompous, caring, irascible and wise, his cynical and witty asides give the story an edge which broadens its appeal beyond average children's fantasy.
Stroud's identification with Bartimaeus is evident from the affection with which he describes his creation.
"He is all about lightness—literally. He has no real form, he can be smoke or he can be a bird flying, he's constantly moving and his language too is constantly shifting from being serious to being sarcastic to being informative to being derisory."
Stroud has taken the unusual step of making the young apprentice, Nathaniel, a much more ambivalent character than his co-protagonist. Single-minded in his ambition to become part of the magical political elite, there is something of the young William Hague about the boy. The reader is caught between sympathy for his harsh upbringing and dismay at his treatment of Bartimaeus.
For Stroud it was essential for Nathaniel to be a complex enough character to act as a foil to Bartimaeus.
"The whole dynamic revolves around Bart and Nathaniel's relationship. Sometimes we may well sympathise with Nathaniel for what he's been through, and at other times we'll think he's a complete sod and want Bart to come out on top because he's been enslaved and is a cheeky character. Each is seeking to gain advantage over the other."
Amulet has another unusual feature for a children's book—footnotes. Some provide background information on the alternate reality the characters inhabit, others supply cheap gags and derisive asides. There is a danger that they might interrupt the flow of the story, but they work best when used to undercut the narrative.
"Using footnotes means you can constantly subvert whatever's going on in the main text and keep everything a bit light. The danger with a lot of fantasy fiction is that it's all about good and evil, with a good guy and a bad guy, and some kind of cosmic significance. That's quite weighty. I think you need the text to have some kind of inherent lightness, like the bubbles in an Aero, which keep the narrative motoring and the reader happy."
While the dynamic between the apprentice and his djinni will hold the interest of older readers, it is the high action quotient which is likely to appeal to Stroud's core audience—boys of 10 upwards—as well as the executives at Miramax.
The book is powered by explosions, chase sequences and a torture scene set in the Tower of London as it races towards a climax.
Stroud hopes that the book "pushes the right buttons for boy readers—some boys might not like reading books with lots of character development but they certainly don't mind reading books with lots of sequences of things being blown up."
There is something of Bartimaeus in his creator. Despite Stroud's sudden success and the potential crossover appeal of Amulet, he is wary of the "highfalutin, slightly pretentious aspect of the literary world". As he puts it, "children's books are my natural home."
Jonathan Stroud and Rick Margolis (interview date January 2006)
SOURCE: Stroud, Jonathan, and Rick Margolis. "I Dream of Djinni: British Author Jonathan Stroud Talks about the Best-Selling Bartimaeus Trilogy." School Library Journal 52, no. 1 (January 2006): 45.
[In the following interview, Stroud discusses the origins of the Bartimaeus Trilogy and his writing career.]
[Margolis]: How did you come up with the idea for a trilogy about a smart-alecky djinni and a young magician?
[Stroud]: I was walking home from a particularly boring and tedious shopping trip in my hometown, and I was turning things over in my mind. I suddenly decided I would create a hero who was a djinni and have as his enemy a young magician who was a politician. A contemporary England that was run by magicians really appealed to me.
I raced home and began writing down some notes. And within a few days I wrote the first four chapters of The Amulet of Samarkand, pretty much exactly as they are right now. The whole voice of Bartimaeus just came out. I had no idea what the story was going to be, but his voice was living in a way I've never experienced before. It was with his voice that the whole trilogy began.
If I were to interview Bartimaeus, what would he say about you?
He'd probably patronize me, and say I was a hard worker, who devoted many hours of my time to doing the very best that I could. He would certainly imply that my effort was fairly middling to poor compared to something he could have done in five minutes. He would certainly emphasize the fact that after a couple days of inspiration, when I wrote the first four chapters, everything slowed up immensely and it took me a month to work out the actual plot of the three books and then three years of solid work. He would find that all a little bit amusing.
I heard that you were a children's book editor before you became a full-time writer.
Pretty much within the month I had the idea for Bartimaeus, I handed in my notice as an editor. That was actually a coincidence. I had another book that I was writing, a book called The Last Siege. I couldn't finish it because I was working four days a week as an editor. I finally got so fed up, I said I would give up my job and give myself a year to write and see if I could make it work financially.
Coincidentally, within that very same time span, I had the beginning of this idea for the series about Bartimaeus. All I had was those first four chapters actually of The Amulet of Samarkand. I was excited by it, but my agent kept it quiet. I gave up my job and finished the other book and then I began working on Bartimaeus. Halfway through the following year, I had written about 100 pages and that was when I showed it to publishers for the first time in the U.K. and U.S.
Variety reported that Miramax paid close to $3 million for the book and film rights. Were you shocked?
Totally. It was the most remarkable and bizarre month of my life. I spent the first half of that year essentially in seclusion, just finishing one book and writing the beginning of The Amulet. When I finally sent it out to various publishers, there was suddenly a massive amount of interest—more interest than I ever had had for any of my other books by a factor of 10. Jonathan Burnham of Miramax Books in the States heard about it and he came motoring over to try and get the publishing rights for the States. Meanwhile, [Miramax chief] Harvey Weinstein read it and was interested in buying the film rights. So over a period of a month, I went from this little, private project to suddenly selling the movie and book rights. It was just the strangest sensation. I remember wandering around for days with a silly grin on my face. Nothing was real; it was kind of like a dream world I suddenly entered. Then again, what actually kept me going was the realization I now had to write the book. I couldn't go out and party.
THE LOST TREASURE OF CAPTAIN BLOOD: HOW THE INFAMOUS SPAMMES ESCAPED THE JAWS OF DEATH AND WON A VAST AND GLORIOUS FORTUNE (1996)
Lynne Babbage (review date March 1997)
SOURCE: Babbage, Lynne. Review of The Lost Treasure of Captain Blood: How the Infamous Spammes Escaped the Jaws of Death and Won a Vast and Glorious Fortune, by Jonathan Stroud, illustrated by Cathy Gale. Magpies 12, no. 1 (March 1997): 30.
Subtitled How the infamous Spammes escaped the jaws of death and won a vast and glorious fortune, this exuberant picture puzzle book [The Lost Treasure of Captain Blood ] has a crew of villainous pirates who outwit the even more villainous baddies. The reader is asked on each double page to solve the numerous puzzles before progressing. They range from simple observation tasks such as counting the dwindling number of ship's rats and finding the spy to eliminating the eight false hiding spots marked on the map to reveal the true treasure one. Each spread is covered in a large painting with much activity going on and speech bubbles of text. There are also comic-style strips of two or three frames which advance the plot. Puzzle instructions are given in boxed captions with black backgrounds which stand out from the surrounding busyness.
The overall effect is much more complicated than books such as the Where's Wally? series and is obviously intended for an older readership. Because the text is broken up into such small and scattered snippets, reluctant readers may well find this an attractive book. Its subject matter, fast-paced action and overall appearance make it appealing, and an inability to solve some of the puzzles is not a deterrent. Some of the answers (but not all) are given on the next page. The only minor quibble is the wording of some of the text. Some of the instructions and answers are addressed directly to the reader and sound a little patronising to an adult but this is not a major issue. Young readers may well spend several hours poring over this book. Not only will their reading skills be put to the test but also their problem solving, lateral thinking and powers of observation.
THE VIKING SAGA OF HARRI BRISTLEBEARD: A HEROIC PUZZLE ADVENTURE (1997)
John Sigwald (review date October 1997)
SOURCE: Sigwald, John. Review of The Viking Saga of Harri Bristlebeard: A Heroic Puzzle Adventure, by Jonathan Stroud, illustrated by Cathy Gale. School Library Journal 43, no. 10 (October 1997): 112.
Gr. 1-3—Requiring a hefty mix of patience and persistence, this Where's Waldo?-like offering [The Viking Saga of Harri Bristlebeard: A Heroic Puzzle Adventure ] adds occasional simple riddles and memory tests to the compulsory multiple (and often tiny) character searches on every page. Loosely a story about a quest to retrieve a magic banner stolen by a dragon years ago, Viking Saga is a slight improvement on Stroud and Gale's The Lost Treasure of Captain Blood (Candlewick, 1996). Like its predecessor, it is presented in an oversized, picture-book format and features a comic-strip story line (dialogue balloons and all). An omniscient raven narrator tucked away in the corner; a longhouse lemming and his growing band of buddies; Hilda, the blond supergirl who disguises herself to join Harri's crew; Fenrir, the loyal and fearless wolf; and a large and busy main scene all revolve around the good-hearted but rather bumbling Harri and his faithful companions. A rainy-day diversion for kids who can color inside the lines.
BURIED FIRE (1999)
Heather Lisowski (review date May 2005)
SOURCE: Lisowski, Heather. Review of Buried Fire, by Jonathan Stroud. KLIATT 39, no. 3 (May 2005): 36.
Deep beneath a hilltop in the English countryside, a dragon sleeps. It is neither a peaceful nor a willing slumber. Michael McIntyre sleeps on the hill above, blissfully unaware of the change that is about to take place in his life. For as Michael sleeps, the dragon dreams, and a single reptilian thought rises from the earth to envelop the boy. When Michael awakens, he finds that he has the ability to see people's true identities. As the days pass, he realizes that he also has three other gifts: the gift of fire, the gift of flying, and the gift of mind control. Michael takes his brother Stephen to the hilltop to initiate him into the small group of villagers who have been changed by the dragon. However, Stephen resists the use of his gifts. Meanwhile, the Reverend Tom Aubrey of St. Wyndham church has made an interesting discovery in his churchyard; the arm of a large Celtic cross has been lifted from the ground. What he does not realize is that this cross bound the dragon into the earth, and with its removal the dragon's power has increased.
Although Buried Fire has exciting fantasy elements, it is not a book that will appeal to all. The point of view within the text shifts from character to character, creating a fractured narrative that would be hard for a lower-level reader to follow comfortably. Also, the victory at the end of the story becomes dependent upon some minor secondary characters that are not terribly well developed, and as a result the conclusion feels convenient. However, the tale itself is intriguing. Although the dragon is the core menace of the story, the humans who are acting on his behalf reflect the real conflict. Their interpersonal relationships remain human while their actions become reptilian. This thriller will appeal to those fantasy fans who are strong readers. It will especially appeal to those who eagerly await the final volume in Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy.
SIGHTSEERS: ANCIENT ROME—A GUIDE TO THE GLORY OF IMPERIAL ROME (2000)
Cynthia M. Sturgis (review date September 2000)
SOURCE: Sturgis, Cynthia M. Review of Sightseers: Ancient Rome—A Guide to the Glory of Imperial Rome, by Jonathan Stroud. School Library Journal 46, no. 9 (September 2000): 257.
Gr. 4-7—Like any handbook for tourists, [Sightseers: Ancient Rome—A Guide to the Glory of Imperial Rome, ] this travel guide to an ancient world includes essential information on accommodations, shopping, key sites, etc. Sidebars describe local customs and offer safety guidelines for sightseers. Even a foldout tour map of the city is included. A concluding "Survival guide" warns readers/tourists about Roman views on law enforcement and how to stay out of trouble. Lots of full-color illustrations and photographs of artifacts combined with a breezy, amusing text result in a delightful, tongue-in-cheek, but informative overview of Roman culture and life. Look to Mike Corbishley's Ancient Rome (Facts on File, 1989) for a more straightforward source.
THE AMULET OF SAMARKAND (2003)
Publishers Weekly (review date 21 July 2003)
SOURCE: Review of The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. Publishers Weekly 250, no. 29 (21 July 2003): 196.
A seemingly omniscient narrator begins [The Amulet of Samarkand, ] this darkly tantalizing tale set in modern-day London, ushering readers into a room where the temperature plunges, ice forms on the curtains and ceiling, and the scent of brimstone fills the air. Suddenly, the voice reveals itself as the djinn Bartimaeus, appearing in front of Nathaniel, the 10-year-old magician who has summoned him ("Hey, it was his first time. I wanted to scare him," Bartimaeus explains). The djinn thinks of himself as rather omniscient, having been present for some major historical moments (as he explains in various footnotes, he gave an anklet to Nefertiti and offered tips to legendary architects—"Not that my advice was always taken: check out the Leaning Tower of Pisa"). Debut novelist Stroud plunges readers into a quickly thickening plot: Nathaniel commands Bartimaeus to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a task that the djinn completes with some ease. Other factors quickly become more interesting: the motive for the boy's charge, how Simon came by the Amulet and the fallout from the theft. What these reveal about the characters of Simon and Nathaniel makes for engrossing reading. Stroud also introduces the fascinating workings of the "seven planes" (magicians can see three of them only with special spectacles), the pecking order of magical beings, and the requirements of various spells and enchantments—plus the intrigue behind a group of commoners mounting a Resistance (this loose end, presumably, will be explored in the remainder of the planned Bartimaeus trilogy). The author plants enough seeds that readers will eagerly anticipate the next two volumes. Ages 10-up.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 October 2003)
SOURCE: Review of The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 19 (1 October 2003): 1231.
In a contemporary London full of magic, a thrilling adventure unfolds [in The Amulet of Samarkand ]. Twelve-year-old Nathaniel is apprenticed to a politician (which means magician), but early emotional pain leads him toward hardness and anger. Arrogantly summoning a djinni to help him steal an amulet from slickly evil Simon Lovelace, he's swept into a swirl of events involving conspiracy at the highest government level. Nathaniel's perspective alternates with that of Bartimaeus, the cocky, sardonic djinni. No character is wholly likable or trustworthy, which contributes to the intrigue. Many chapters end in suspense, suddenly switching narrators at key moments to create a real page-turner. Readers will hope that Stroud follows up on certain questions—is it slavery to use a djinni? will shaky looming international politics affect the empire? who deserves our alliance? and who are the mysterious children ostensibly running an underground resistance?—in the next installment, sure to be eagerly awaited.
Anita L. Burkam (review date November-December 2003)
SOURCE: Burkam, Anita L. Review of The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. Horn Book Magazine 79, no. 6 (November-December 2003): 757.
The magicians ruling the British empire in [The Amulet of Samarkand, ] this anachronistic modern fantasy derive their powers from demons—marids, afrits, djinn, imps—who, though summoned to work the magicians' wills, are always looking for a loophole through which to destroy them. Bartimaeus, a smart-mouthed bruiser of a djinni, called by a stripling magician to steal the Amulet of Samarkand, finds just such a loophole when he learns his master's secret birthname. Nathaniel, however, manages to regain the upper hand with a time-delayed spell: Bartimaeus must protect the apprentice magician long enough to get the spell removed or spend eternity in a tobacco tin. Through guile, teamwork, and dumb luck the ambitious but green kid and the "Spenser for Hire"-type djinni uncover and foil a coup attempt masterminded by Simon Lovelace, the powerful and ruthless magician who is after them for stealing the Amulet. The pace never slows in this wisecracking adventure; chapters in Bartimaeus's lively first person (with indulgent explanatory footnotes) alternate with third-person chapters on Nathaniel's adolescent insecurities and desires. Stroud has created a compelling fantasy story in a well-realized world, but it is the complementary characters of Bartimaeus and Nathaniel that will keep readers coming back for the rest of the projected trilogy.
Suzi Feay (review date 7 December 2003)
SOURCE: Feay, Suzi. Review of The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. Independent Sunday (7 December 2003): 18.
Critics of J K Rowling can't fault her amazingly fertile comic imagination or the page-turning power of her stories. But the excitement of the plots isn't matched by the quality of her prose, which is rarely more than efficient.
Step forward Jonathan Stroud—in [The Amulet of Samarkand, ] the first book of his projected Bartimaeus trilogy, he brings together a fabulist's facility with a rollicking relish in creating good sentences. The demon, or djinni, Bartimaeus, has spent centuries honing his world-weary sarcasm, often racing down into the footnotes the better to express his lofty wit. Stroud's England is not unlike Rowling's, in that magicians and non-magical folk exist side by side, but Stroud has reversed the balance: the arrogant magicians hold the power and they are far from benevolent. Young readers will enjoy the exciting magical set-pieces and phantasmagorical battles, while their elders will be amused by the antics of a ruling class who come on like New Labour with wands.
The trouble begins when young magician's apprentice Nathaniel summons the age-old demon Bartimaeus with an outrageous request: to retrieve the titular Amulet from the smarmy yet fearsome wizard Simon Lovelace, who has offended him. Nathaniel is awfully young to be setting magical feuds in motion—he's an intriguingly flawed boy, but Stroud has no interest in creating a two-dimensional hero, or in flattering his juvenile readers, which gives his novel quite a sharp tang.
Bartimaeus is bound by ancient laws so, much as he'd love to ignore the puny little scamp, he can't: Nathaniel is word-perfect in his spells. Unlike the notoriously hard-of-understanding Harry Potter, Nathaniel is a brain-box, a swot, and it's as much as Bartimaeus can do to outwit him. The boy and the shapeshifting demon (one minute he takes the form of an Egyptian slave, the next he's a gargoyle on the roof of Westminster Abbey) form the ultimate mismatched-buddy team as they battle the forces of evil. Not that Bartimaeus gives a damn about that, of course.
Diana Wynne Jones (review date 13 December 2003)
SOURCE: Jones, Diana Wynne. "The Djinni's Tale." Guardian (13 December 2003): 32.
[In the following review, noted fantasy author Wynne Jones lauds The Amulet of Samarkand and compliments Stroud for turning "the well-known tradition of the magician's apprentice, the boy who attempts to perform his master's magic on his own, upside down."]
[The Amulet of Samarkand, t]his first volume in a promised trilogy is set in an alternate England—at least, I hope it's not ours—where the ruling classes are cold-hearted, self-centred magicians who derive their power from their ability to summon demons (djinn, afrits, imps) and coerce them into following their orders.
Half the story is told by a djinni, Bartimaeus, who is summoned by an 11-year-old apprentice and commanded to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from an unscrupulous government minister. Bartimaeus's efforts to follow his orders and, later, to deal with the consequences, while resenting every moment of his adventures, have you on the edge of your seat. His narrative is splendidly amplified by footnotes that add historical depth, wry humour and smug pride to his already packed story.
The other half of the story shows how the apprentice, Nathaniel, was torn from his parents as a five-year-old and dumped in the household of an uncaring master to be force-fed with magical learning. You are just beginning to think you understand how the magician politicians of this world grow up so nasty, when Nathaniel suddenly—albeit arrogantly—begins to display some decent qualities.
Bartimaeus is exasperated, but—and it is a measure of how subtly excellent this book is that you don't spot this immediately—he is forced into a concealed and grudging respect. Together boy and djinni try to retrieve the mess they have made in a thunderously exciting climax.
What makes this book so unusual is the way Jonathan Stroud has upended the various traditions he draws on. He pays homage to The Arabian Nights and to any "ripping yarn" you care to name, but the Charles Dickens of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield is also in there; and this strange mix is made new by being transposed into a country slightly—but only slightly—reminiscent of Kingsley Amis's The Alteration.
This is a world in which there are cars, trains, London buses, repressive government ministries, corrupt politicians and covert revolutionaries, all existing inside a social order very different from our own.
Stroud has turned the well-known tradition of the magician's apprentice, the boy who attempts to perform his master's magic on his own, upside down. Nathaniel succeeds in summoning his djinni and in controlling him. Things get out of hand mostly because Nathaniel is only a boy trying to fight adult magicians. But the truly original touch is the way Stroud alternates Nathaniel's story with the djinni's own knowing and irascible first-person narrative. And Bartimaeus is not perfect, though he considers that he is. He makes mistakes, just as Nathaniel does.
If you know a boy between 10 and 13 (or younger, if you like reading aloud), give him this book for Christmas. This is not to say that girls will not find it enthralling too; just that the sort of cynical derision Bartimaeus displays towards his youthful master, and magicians in general, chimes so well with the mindset of so many boys of around that age that they'll be demanding the next books in the trilogy for their birthdays. Having said that, I can't wait for volume two either.
Ginny Collier (review date January 2004)
SOURCE: Collier, Ginny. Review of The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. School Library Journal 50, no. 1 (January 2004): 136.
Gr. 5-9—[In The Amulet of Samarkand, ] Nathaniel has been apprenticed to Mr. Underwood for several years. At the age of 12, he has finally been Named and is on his way to becoming a real magician. Suddenly, London is in an uproar. The Amulet of Samarkand has been stolen from the powerful magician Simon Lovelace. Only Nathaniel knows what really happened because it was he who commanded the 5000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to steal it for him. Now, with a rebellious demon under his control and all of London searching for the thief, he must figure out a way to keep the amulet hidden. Stroud has woven an intricate fantasy set in an alternative London where the most influential members of society, and even the Prime Minister himself, are magicians. The richly rewarding story unfolds in chapters that alternate between Bartimaeus's first-person narration, which includes arcane and very funny footnotes, and Nathaniel's account, told in third person. There is plenty of action, mystery, and humor to keep readers turning the pages. This title, the first in a trilogy, is a must for fantasy fans, and in particular for those anxious for the next Harry Potter.
Janice M. Del Negro (review date March 2004)
SOURCE: Del Negro, Janice M. Review of The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 57, no. 7 (March 2004): 298.
[In The Amulet of Samarkand, t]he demon Bartimaeus is summoned by precocious magician's apprentice Nathaniel and ordered to retrieve the Amulet of Samarkand from the house of master magician Simon Lovelace. Thus begins the partnership between boy and demon, one that can only be dissolved when Nathaniel releases Bartimaeus from a bond of Perpetual Confinement. Nathaniel is unaware of the real power of the Amulet—he only wants it to avenge himself on Simon Lovelace for embarrassing him at a gathering of magicians—but Lovelace was planning to use the Amulet to assassinate the Prime Minister and take over the Government, and he is not happy at its loss. Lovelace tracks the Amulet, kills Nathaniel's master, and sets a host of magical beings in search of boy and demon. Bartimaeus, sworn to protect Nathaniel, sneaks them both into the conference where Lovelace is planning his coup; in a shattering confrontation the boy retrieves the Amulet and saves the day—and the appropriately grateful Prime Minister. Stroud alternates between Bartimaeus' first-person narration and an omniscient narrator's view of Nathaniel. The demon has a sarcastic tone and highly developed sense of irony, evident not only in his direct narrative but in the footnotes he includes to explain himself to the reader. Fast action and Machiavellian politics shape the plot: the structure of the society and the hierarchy of the magicians within it are clearly delineated. The constant threat of discovery means the tension is high, although Nathaniel's eventual survival and his release of Bartimaeus is never really in doubt. The relationship between Stroud's conflicted apprentice and the mouthy demon, as well as his unusual handling of the formal intricacies of magic, make this novel a standard in the genre of magician-oriented fantasy. Here's hoping Bartimaeus gets another chance to help Nathaniel grow up.
Michael M. Jones (review date March 2004)
SOURCE: Jones, Michael M. Review of The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. Chronicle of Higher Education 26, no. 3 (March 2004): 36.
In an alternate London where magicians rule through the power of the spirits they summon from beyond, one young man's desire for revenge entangles him in the heart of a conspiracy aimed at the highest levels of power [in The Amulet of Samarkand ]. Still a year away from gaining his official magician's name and being granted a measure of respect, the eleven year old apprentice known as Nathaniel secretly summons an ancient, powerful djinn, Bartimaeus, and commands his newfound servant to steal the fabled Amulet of Samarkand from the magician who wronged him, Simon Lovelace.
What Nathaniel doesn't realize is just how ruthless Lovelace is, or how importantly the Amulet factors into a diabolical scheme. Even with the unwilling aid of Bartimaeus, Nathaniel will be tested to the very limits of his loyalty, resourcefulness, and magical abilities. If the odd pair fail, they, and the rest of London's power structure, will be in for a horrible end indeed.
If I had to label one book as "If you like Harry Potter, you'll like this," it would definitely be The Amulet of Samarkand. The first book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, it's nevertheless structured so that it tells a full story in its own right, leaving just enough loose ends to set up the remainder of the series. Nathaniel and Bartimaeus are the unlikeliest of allies, with only threats and mutual bonds of need keeping them together during the darkest times. One of the most entertaining aspects of this book is that half of it is told from Bartimaeus' viewpoint. Not only is he snarky, over-confident, self-involved and egotistical, he speaks in footnotes, which serve to explain many of the unusual aspects of his world and personal history. The other half of the book focuses on Nathaniel, but even during those times, we never lose track of the fact that this is Bartimaeus' story. I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment of the trilogy.
THE GOLEM'S EYE (2004)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 August 2004)
SOURCE: Review of The Golem's Eye, by Jonathan Stroud. Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 19 (1 August 2004): 749.
Picking up two years after The Amulet of Samarkand ended, this sequel [The Golem's Eye ] continues the original's fast-paced excitement and is enriched by a broader moral view and a third main character. Nathaniel, ambitious teenage magician (politician), works furiously to gain power and credence in London's magician-run government. Slavedjinni Bartimaeus, bound to follow Nathaniel's orders, retains his ultra-sardonic voice (including trademark commentary footnotes). The third viewpoint is that of Kitty, a teenaged member of the Resistance tormenting London's seat of government. Unlike headstrong Nathaniel (never questioning the British Empire's repressive power) and sarcastic Bartimaeus, the fierce, fiery Kitty is easy to root for. Grave-robbing, international spying, a city-smashing golem, exploding demons, and fearsome Night Police all figure in before the end—which of course isn't the end at all. Is there hope for resisting the Empire? Might enslaved djinn be involved? Stay tuned for more thrills.
Jeff Zaleski (review date 16 August 2004)
SOURCE: Zaleski, Jeff. Review of The Golem's Eye, by Jonathan Stroud. Publishers Weekly 251, no. 33 (16 August 2004): 64.
The sharp-witted shape-shifting djinni returns in Stroud's second volume of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, [The Golem's Eye, ] this time dealing with a mysterious attacker that is terrorizing London. Nathaniel (aka John Mandrake), now 14, is apprenticed to Jessica Whitwell (as established at the close of the first book), "one of the four most potent magicians in the government." When several terrorist attacks take place, the ruling party blames the Resistance, the young commoner idealists introduced in the previous title. Nathaniel, rapidly rising through the ranks and serving as assistant to the Internal Affairs minister, Julius Tallow, suspects something larger at work. He once again summons Bartimaeus; the djinni's charge: "Pursuit and identification of an unknown enemy of considerable power." When it appears that a golem is behind the attacks, the duo's mission takes them to Prague to uncover the magic behind the creature's appearance. Readers learn more about Kitty, previously met as a member of the Resistance, as the narrative shifts among her, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel. Kitty aids Mr. Pennyfeather, leader of the Resistance, in the group's effort to rob the grave of the legendary magician Gladstone to gain power. Bartimaeus once again steals the spotlight; his pages are the most entertaining (one of his signature footnotes points out that his guise as a feathered, winged serpent "used to bring the house down in Yucatan"). Although the thrill of discovery of Stroud's magical realm may have worn off slightly, fans of book one will enjoy revisiting this delectably uneasy bond between boy and djinni. Bartimaeus's pointed humor makes for a story worth savoring. Ages 10-up.
Tasha Saecker (review date October 2004)
SOURCE: Saecker, Tasha. Review of The Golem's Eye, by Jonathan Stroud. School Library Journal 50, no. 10 (October 2004): 178, 180.
Gr. 6 Up—[The Golem's Eye, t]his sequel to The Amulet of Samarkand (Hyperion, 2003) takes place two years later. Now 14, Nathaniel works in the Department of Internal Affairs trying to stop a group of commoners who are responsible for small rebellions against the magician-run government. As he pursues the elusive Resistance, he discovers that an unknown individual is using ancient magic to control a golem and wreak havoc on the city of London. Meanwhile, readers get a look into the heart of the Resistance through the eyes of Kitty, a resourceful young commoner. She was born with a "resilience" to magic, an ability that drew her to the attention of the rebels, and her motivations for joining them are clearly presented. As events unfold, Nathaniel and Kitty are faced with choices that will test their courage and honor. The third-person narrative switches focus between the two characters. As in the first book, occasional chapters narrated by the demon Bartimaeus add sarcasm and irreverent humor to the text and offer a break from the ever-growing tension. The story, which stands alone nicely, retains all of the strengths of Stroud's first installment and adds many more details to his already vivid fantasy world. The characters are well developed and the action never lets up. A must-purchase for all fantasy collections.
Timnah Card (review date November 2004)
SOURCE: Card, Timnah. Review of The Golem's Eye, by Jonathan Stroud. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 58, no. 3 (November 2004): 148.
[In The Golem's Eye, t]he sarcastic djinni Bartimaeus and his ambitious master Nathaniel (from The Amulet of Samarkand, BCCB 3/04), in spite of mutual vows to leave each other in peace, are reunited "two years, eight months" later in another race to save London from the terrorist acts of political conspira- tors and Resistance fighters. Only Nathaniel realizes that certain of the attacks on the city (mysterious, large-scale destructions of valuable property) come from a source other than the grassroots Resistance, a deduction which leads him on an undercover mission to the formerly great magical city of Prague, which was, not coincidentally, the site of the creation of the first golem, centuries before. Mortal danger, international intrigue, and treacherous allies keep the temperature high throughout this supersized sequel, while Bartimaeus' acid commentary and wry footnotes add pepper to the pot. Resistance fighter Kitty, introduced in the first volume and now forced into action as a major player in the struggle for power, infuses the tale with moral complexity as she consistently chooses idealistic heroism over practical self-preservation, winning Bartimaeus' admiration and providing the more easily corruptible Nathaniel with both a foil and a reason to doubt the wisdom of his own choices. With a fast-paced, open-ended dénouement assuring readers further high adventure in the next installment, this second book of the trilogy fulfills the potential of the first and promises a satisfying conclusion to come. A list of main characters is provided.
Elizabeth Devereaux (review date 14 November 2004)
SOURCE: Devereaux, Elizabeth. "Of Trolls and Men." New York Times Book Review (14 November 2004): 20.
[In the following review, Devereaux evaluates several works of juvenile fantasy, noting that Stroud's The Golem's Eye "heads straight to the top of the class."]
All good children's fantasy epics are alike; every unsuccessful fantasy epic fails in its own way. Despite settings that range from a land inhabited by water waifs and goblins to a futuristic Europe, the middle installments of five continuing fantasy series look more the same than different. Somehow the authors orchestrate a conflict between good and evil. The good can't be too good, lest the story become too preachy and dull, and the evil can't be too evil, lest the story become too violent or frightening. And, for all the magic, the talking animals, the imaginary creatures and imaginary worlds, a good fantasy must also be original and startle the reader into a new thought or two.
The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book Two: The Golem's Eye, by Jonathan Stroud, heads straight to the top of the class. To clue in the uninitiated: Bartimaeus is a genie summoned by an apprentice magician named Nathaniel, a precocious boy in the brave-orphan mold. Bartimaeus longs to return to his home in the Other Place but must do Nathaniel's bidding in London (Stroud is British). In this London, however, magicians govern—that is, when they are not scheming against one another or spying on the Czechs, Britain's historic enemies. The author's voice eclipses even this lustrous plot, particularly when Bartimaeus narrates (dedicating a characteristically sardonic footnote to the British Museum, Bartimaeus says it "was home to a million antiquities, several dozen of which were legitimately come by").
In the caesura between the first two books, two years have elapsed, and the characters have evolved. Some fans may be disappointed to see that Bartimaeus's role has been scaled back, but he's too large and too formed a character, perhaps, to occupy center stage without overshadowing the action. Nathaniel, now 14, can seem cold and smug as he leads a government mission to hunt down the Resistance, a band of revolutionaries seeking to return power to the ordinary people. He's still brave, but is he likable? Meanwhile, a seemingly suspicious character from the first book, Kitty, ascends to stake her claim on our sympathies. Kitty belongs to the Resistance, for quite compelling reasons, and it's only a matter of time before Kitty and Nathaniel (and Bartimaeus) divide our loyalties. Amid political intrigues and magic, Kitty and Nathaniel both find their lives threatened.
For all its supernatural complexities, Stroud's book might be strongest for what it reflects of our world. It's not easy to tell who is on the side of good, although many characters have good intentions. As the author confidently tilts the narrative point of view, he magnifies the ambiguity and multiplies the thrills.
By contrast, Clive Barker's Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War (Joanna Cotler/Harper-Collins, $24.99, ages 12 and up), like its predecessor, The Thief of Always, trades heavily on novelty. The author, best known for his adult horror fiction, has spent six years creating the paintings of the rococo creatures used in the color illustrations, among them a villain with three jaws, stacked on top of one another, and a musician with "tendrils of spiraling matter" growing out of his head and back. It's tempting to assume that the paintings preceded the often picaresque plot, which follows young Candy Quackenbush from Chickentown, Minn., through the extravagant oddities of the Abarat islands.
By this second book Candy knows all too well that she will be essential to Abarat's future, and that the supremely evil Christopher Carrion, Lord of Mid- night, is out to get her. Barker gets big points for Candy, an unusually natural and winning heroine. Just think "candid" and "candor." But she doesn't have worthy foes. Christopher Carrion and his henchmen come across as cruel yet disappointingly gullible; they're always being betrayed by those to whom they pledge their loyalty, but no one ever wises up. So far "Abarat" reads less like a series than one gigantic novel.
Zizou Corder, the pen name of a British mother and her school-age daughter, keeps sight of the political uses of fantasy in the Lionboy trilogy, the second installment of which is Lionboy: The Chase (Dial, $15.99, ages 10 and up). Charlie Ashanti, the boy hero, is biracial and deals (well) with prejudice and hostility, while the plot looks to a future in which a "corporacy" manipulates the public and even perpetuates some illnesses to guarantee demand for various medicines. These elements lurk in the book's foundations; more immediately, Charlie can speak to cats of all kinds, including lions.
As the second adventure begins, Charlie and a troupe of circus lions have hopped the Orient Express in Paris, with a little help from the king of Bulgaria; the idea is for the big cats to return to their own home in Africa and for Charlie to reunite with his parents, who have been kidnapped from their house in London and who, he believes, are being held in Venice. But all sorts of people are after him, still others are after the lions, and can Charlie protect the lions from a mysterious plan to consolidate the doge's power over Venice?
In terms of its questing structure and whole-cloth fantasy setting, the most traditional of these series would be "The Edge Chronicles," written by Paul Stewart and illustrated by Chris Riddell. The third book, The Edge Chronicles: Midnight over Sanctaphrax (David Fickling/Random House, $12.95, ages 10 to 12), could stand on its own; it might be argued that with each book this series has grown swifter, tenser and more tightly written, and that readers would do well to start in the middle. The hero, Twig, has progressed from Ugly Duckling beginnings as the foundling of wood trolls to discover his true destiny as a sky-pirate captain. Serving Sanctaphrax, the floating city of the academics, Twig leads his crew on a dangerous mission into a weather "vortex" and learns what he must do to save his world—only to suffer a catastrophe that scatters his crew and erases his last memory. Stewart doles out lots of deaths and scary sequences, but he modulates the terror by changing the scenery rapidly and keeping Twig and child readers too busy to stay frightened or upset.
G. P. Taylor's Wormwood (Putnam, $17.99, ages 12 and up) may be more fairly termed a companion book than a sequel to his earlier "Shadowmancer," hailed as the Christian Harry Potter. The protagonists and locales of the two novels differ, but the larger setting and message are identical, as is the pivotal character, an angel named Abram Rickards (eventually revealed as Raphael). Taylor stretches the allegorical trappings mighty thin—who needs clashes between mere good and evil when you can have biblical devils and angels duking it out over eternal stakes? As in "Shadowmancer," the plot of "Wormwood" hinges on a supernatural device (in this case, a book that tempts an 18th-century scientist in London) that could bring all of creation under the sway of the forces of evil.
A lurid, even somewhat sadistic flavor taints this enterprise. In the opening scenes, maddened hounds rip the flesh of panicked Londoners; not long after, the young heroine receives an eye-shaped wound on her palm, "the deep black line around the blood-red center oozing thick green mucus." These flourishes signal greater gore to come. Most unsettling of all, the sole representative of heaven, Abram/Raphael, traffics in death with a vengeance equal in intensity, if not purpose, to that of the bad guys: "I am nothing but an assassin for righteousness," he explains. Don't look for faith, hope or charity. Abram/Raphael doesn't attract, he strikes the deepest fear in the other characters.
The theology aside, dread is a poor substitute for inspiration when it comes to fantasy, especially fantasy for children. When a children's fantasy succeeds, as most of these books do, the reader gets a great story—and an opportunity to grow a little braver, a little stronger, a little more attuned to the possibilities of moral choice.
Kristi Elle Jemtegaard (review date January-February 2005)
SOURCE: Jemtegaard, Kristi Elle. Review of The Golem's Eye, by Jonathan Stroud. Horn Book Magazine 81, no. 1 (January-February 2005): 122.
In Book Two of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, [The Golem's Eye, ] the action ricochets between the ancient streets of Prague and the rooftops of London. Fourteen-year-old Nathaniel may be two years older, but his pursuit of power within the ruling community of magicians is no less reckless or impetuous. As unexplained dangers bubble beneath the surface and ever-stronger pockets of resistance crop up, Nathaniel once again calls on forces stronger than his own. Jones's virtuoso portrayal of Bartimaeus (the first-person narrator of this complex web of political intrigue and internecine warfare) allows the five-thousand-year-old djinni's languid sarcasm to shape both the tale and the actors in it. Jones's confident pacing keeps the drama moving forward through the novel's many descriptive passages and overlapping scenes.
Don D'Ammassa (review date February 2005)
SOURCE: D'Ammassa, Don. Review of The Golem's Eye, by Jonathan Stroud. Chronicle 27, no. 2 (February 2005): 32.
The sequel to The Amulet of Samarkand [The Golem's Eye] is even more complex and exciting. Bartimaeus is a genie summoned by young Nathaniel, who has magical powers, who accompanies him on a series of adventures in a magical alternate version of our world, this time taking him out of London and across into continental Europe, where he must discover the secrets of his homeland's enemies from the inside. There are times when I thought the author was talking down to his audience a bit, a common problem in children's literature, but not so noticeably that it seriously interfered with my ability to enjoy the story, which is inventive, adventurous, and quite often suspenseful. A considerable step up from the first volume and a good omen for the next and final book in the trilogy.
Michael M. Jones (review date March 2005)
SOURCE: Jones, Michael M. Review of The Golem's Eye, by Jonathan Stroud. Chronicle 27, no. 3 (March 2005): 45.
[In The Golem's Eye, ] two years after the events chronicled in The Amulet of Samarkand, young magician Nathaniel has, in his adult guise of John Mandrake, risen quickly in the ranks of London's magician-ruled government, becoming the assistant to Julius Tallow, Head of Internal Affairs. In this role, Nathaniel has been appointed to track down the Resistance, a group of ordinary humans dedicated to stealing magical artifacts and disrupting the strict rule of the magicians. So far, he's not doing so well, feeling the pressure from all sides from those envious of his success or fearful of his talents. Things get worse when a magical creature of unknown origins begins to cut a swathe of destruction through magician-held interests, just as the Resistance steps up their own efforts. Nathaniel is forced to go back on an earlier promise, and once again summon the Djinn, Bartimaeus, who helped him two years ago. It's not a partnership either are eager to resume, made all the more tense by Nathaniel's new attitude and drive to succeed.
Told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Nathaniel, Bartimaeus, and Kitty, one of the Resistance, The Golem's Eye is another captivating adventure set in a world where magic has dictated the course of events across the world for centuries. As events unfold, and Nathaniel's journey takes him from London, to darkly atmospheric Prague and back, we learn more of Bartimaeus' storied history, and discover just what brought Kitty to this point in her life. Conspiracies and mysteries abound, and magic fills the air as Stroud weaves a thoroughly entertaining tale. This is the series I recommend, without hesitation, to those who like Harry Potter. The characters are memorable and complex. Stroud unafraid to exploit their flaws. While some readers might be disappointed by Nathaniel's emotional growth (and resultant change in attitude and morals), it's only logical under the circumstances, and there's plenty of time for him to come around in the third book in the trilogy, which can't come too soon for me.
PTOLEMY'S GATE (2005)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 December 2005)
SOURCE: Review of Ptolemy's Gate, by Jonathan Stroud. Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 24 (15 December 2005): 1328.
The trilogy wraps up with excitement, adventure, and an unexpected wallop of heart and soul [in Ptolemy's Gate ]. Three years have passed since Bartimaeus told Nathaniel that Kitty was killed by a golem. Nathaniel lives as John Mandrake now, coldly producing government propaganda. Mandrake continues to summon Bartimaeus as a slave-djinni despite the suffering it causes. Commoners (including Kitty, secretly alive) stumblingly rebel against the magicians (politicians). But when a real uprising bursts forth, it takes a shocking form and requires stunning sacrifices and terrifying levels of trust from all three protagonists. Bartimaeus's trademark footnotes are less snarky this time, including those in the chapters about his relationship with Ptolemy in Egypt from 126 to 124 B.C. The djinni, and the rare humans who care, don't solve one profound problem: Magicians get their power from summoning unwilling djinni into slavery. However, Stroud masterfully weaves together four characters and an unearthly realm of existence in an explosive culmination that reaches back to the first two volumes and infuses them with layers of psychological and moral complexity. The volumes in this trilogy should be read in order.
Publishers Weekly (review date 23 January 2006)
SOURCE: Review of Ptolemy's Gate, by Jonathan Stroud. Publishers Weekly 253, no. 4 (23 January 2006): 208.
Three years have passed since the events of The Golem's Eye, but there's more trouble than ever in the young magician Nathaniel's London [in Ptolemy's Gate ]. At 17, he's climbed to the highest ranks of the British government but his now-"crippling" workload includes trying to sell an unpopular war in the American wilderness to the commoners who must fight it, and battling terrorist attacks and political corruption on the homefront. There's enough of an explosive plot in this final installment of Stroud's trilogy to fuel several novels. After two years of nonstop service to Nathaniel (known as John Mandrake), Bartimaeus has had it: "Irritable and jaded, with a perpetual itch in my essence that I cannot scratch," is how the djinni puts it. Kitty, the commoner and former Resistance leader, plays the Hermione Granger role of social conscience here: her new mission is to break the bonds that enslave the djinn to the ruling magician elite. The narrative shifts among these three, although as usual, Bartimaeus—even in his melancholy mood—steals the show. (It is an unusual novel whose best lines appear in the footnotes, but the djinni's wisecracking asides continue to be well worth the disruption in narrative flow.) This final volume fills in Bartimaeus's backstory, exposing a vulnerability not seen before, and preparing readers—after a galloping run against imps, Pestilence, Detonations, shields, charms and countercharms—for a potent ending that is at once unexpected and wholly earned.
April Spisak (review date February 2006)
SOURCE: Spisak, April. Review of Ptolemy's Gate, by Jonathan Stroud. Bulletin of the Center of Children's Books 59, no. 6 (February 2006): 287.
[In Ptolemy's Gate, ] Kitty, Bartimaeus, and Nathaniel return as the central triad in this final volume of the Bartimaeus Trilogy (Amulet of Samarkand, BCCB 3/04, Golem's Eye, BCCB 11/04). Things have changed a great deal, though, as Kitty (member of the rebel forces against the manipulative government) is now in hiding and assumed dead, Nathaniel seeks escape from his past and suffocates under increasing power and responsibility, and djinn Bartimaeus' strength is nearly sapped after almost two years of magical servitude. Though none of them wishes to see the others, they are drawn together again because of an imminent risk to themselves and to all humans as djinn and demons have learned how to overtake living bodies and break free of their masters' limitation on their earthly access. The first half of the novel builds toward a dramatic showdown between the human magicians and their summoned slaves (the djinn, demons, imps, and other powerful but restricted creatures from the Other Place) who chafe under being ruled. Readers hoping for a thrilling conclusion from such a dynamic trilogy will not be disappointed, and they'll likely be genuinely shocked by the tragedy that befalls one of the three main characters. The sense of loyalty between these fractious three remains strong until the end, and it is this consistent virtue across the series that leads to the only ending possible when all other attempts have failed and humanity is on the line. Stroud's fast-paced narration and suspenseful story arc are as solid and effective as in the previous volumes, and long-suffering djinn Bartimaeus shines as one of the most satisfyingly irascible, self-involved, and witty (and not quite villainous) heroes since Dahl's Willy Wonka.
Martha V. Parravano (review date March-April 2006)
SOURCE: Parravano, Martha V. Review of Ptolemy's Gate, by Jonathan Stroud. Horn Book Magazine 82, no. 2 (March-April 2006): 195.
[Ptolemy's Gate, t]his closing installment is the best yet, as the fates of the djinni Bartimaeus, the magician John Mandrake (true name: Nathaniel), and the commoner Kitty Jones grow ever more tightly entwined. The situation in Stroud's alternate-universe London has gone from bad to worse, with an unpopular overseas war draining men and resources; the ruling magicians corrupt; and the populace increasingly desperate. Now in hiding, Kitty is secretly learning all she can about Ptolemy, an ancient-Egyptian scholar whom Bartimaeus served—and loved—who aspired to break the cycle of enslavement between spirits and humans. Meanwhile, Bartimaeus, his essence sadly diminished by two years' continual service in the material world, seeks his release; Nathaniel, now a cynical top minister, needs him to investigate a plot to overthrow the government. When the attempted coup goes horribly wrong and power- ful demons ravage the city, Nathaniel, Bartimaeus, and Kitty find themselves fighting on the same side—and, in the case of Bartimaeus and Nathaniel, even in the same body. Stroud is a masterful storyteller, balancing touching sentiment with humor, explosive action scenes with philosophical musings on human nature. He ties up the loose ends from previous installments (the identity of the government traitor, etc.) early on, freeing the book from the usual duties of a wrap-up volume and allowing it considerable momentum and power. Skillfully intertwining the various plot strands, Stroud builds to a thrilling, inventive climax. The final scene manages to take the reader completely by surprise and yet seem, in retrospect, inevitable: a stunning end to a justly acclaimed trilogy.
Stroud, Jonathan, and Carl Wilkinson. "On the Verge." Observer (28 September 2003): 12
Stroud discusses his publishing career and the success of The Amulet of Samarkand.
Veale, Scott. Review of The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. New York Times Book Review (8 February 2004): 23.
Evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of The Amulet of Samarkand.
Additional coverage of Stroud's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 169; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 144; Literature Resource Center; and Something about the Author, Vols. 102, 159.