Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
Summary from Goodreads:
Nathaniel is eleven years old and a magician’s apprentice, learning the traditional arts of magic. All is well until he has a life-changing encounter with Simon Lovelace, a magician of unrivaled ruthlessness and ambition. When Lovelace brutally humiliates Nathaniel in public, Nathaniel decides to speed up his education, teaching himself spells way beyond his years. With revenge on his mind, he masters one of the toughest spells of all and summons Bartimaeus, a five-thousand-year-old djinni, to assist him. But summoning Bartimaeus and controlling him are two different things entirely, and when Nathaniel sends the djinni out to steal Lovelace’s greatest treasure, the Amulet of Samarkand, he finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.
I was eager to read this book because one, I've heard so much good about it. Second, I haven't really explored anything with genies in them save for Disney's Alladin. And who doesn't love Genie? He grants you wishes, he's blue, he's hilarious, and he's Robin Williams. Who doesn't love Robin Williams? But the genie in this book wasn't what I expected. Same goes for the magicians.
First off, the magicians here are not of the "Harry Potter" kind. Their powers does not stem from their beings, but from spirits like djinnis. But they can take credit for having the strength and the wits to summon and control one. Djinnis on the other hand are not the three wishes kind. They serve you not out of willingness but out of servitude, of being bound my the magical spell. So they will do as much as they can to outwit and find a loop hole in their master's spells and they can be quite ruthless. So you can imagine the relationship of master magician and a djinni as a constant battle of wits and strength.
The central djinni and magician in the story are Bartimaeus and Nathaniel respectively. Bartimaeus is as every bit as sarcastic, arrogant, and cheeky as they say. His naration provided for most of fun in the story. I found myself looking forward more to Bartimaeus chapters as opposed to Nathaniel chapters. I also loved the fact that the spirit entities are not in any way mere creatures of some sort, not because of their supernatural abilities, but because they think and have feelings. They form an opinion about their masters, their surroundings, their fellow spirit entities, about politics etc. It was interesting to read what they have to say on these matters. And it is also possible that they become quite taken by a human, as Bartimeaus demostrated towards an Egyptian boy he once knew.
Nathaniel on one hand is a magician's young apprentice who possess great talent in magic matched by his equally great ego. But unlike the majority of the magicians in London who are self-serving and will think nothing but gaining power and prominence in the government, this boy actually has a conscience. So despite the fact that he can be a bit of a brat, I still find myself rooting for him.
Plot-wise, it is engaging enough. Magic plus Politics is bound to be. There's murder, deaths, back stabbing, pretense and conspiracies not to mention the explosive magical duels. I think of it as a magician's version of what they refer to in the phrase ladies who lunch (magician's who lunch?). The magicians in the Parliament are kind of like that. They hold get togethers and are in each other's company, not really because they like each other but because it is an avenue for boasting, for putting others down, for getting gossip. And most often than not, for sucking up to the right persons.
This book more or less reminds me a bit of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke, a for the younger set and a fast paced version of it. I am very much eager to find out more about Nathaniel and Bartimaeus, both being standout characters. This book is a great fantasy read, it presents an interesting kind of world and story.