The Amulet of Samarkand
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|Genre||Children's, Fantasy novel|
|30 September 2003|
|Media type||Print (Paperback & Hardback)|
|Pages||462 pp (first edition, paperback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-7868-1859-X (first edition, paperback)|
|LC Class||PZ7.S92475 Am 2003|
|Followed by||The Golem's Eye|
The Amulet of Samarkand is a children's novel of alternate history, fantasy and magic reminiscent of the Harry Potter series but much darker in tone. It is the first book in the Bartimaeus trilogy written by Jonathan Stroud. The book and series are about power struggles in a magical dystopia centered in London, England featuring a mix of current and ancient, secular and mythological themes. It is well known for its liberal use of footnotes to voice the title character's sarcastic comments, as well as story background.
London, England, 100 years after death of Gladstone in 1898.
A magician's young apprentice, Nathaniel, summons the irascible 5,000-year-old djinni, Bartimaeus, to do his bidding. Nathaniel has an interesting assignment for Bartimaeus: he must steal the powerful Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a master magician of unrivalled ruthlessness and ambition. The only problem is Bartimaeus couldn't care less for what his current master really wants, only that he has a job to complete (and survive) before he can return to "The Other Place" again... that and perhaps get even with the annoying little brat who summoned him if he gets the chance. Bartimaeus refers constantly to his relation with his former master Ptolemy, comparing him much more favorably to Nathaniel. Before long, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel are caught up in a terrifying flood of magical intrigue, rebellion and murder. Nathaniel learns quickly that he may have gotten into a plot much more in depth than he and his djinni can cope with.
- Nathaniel(John Mandrake)
- Arthur Underwood, Nathaniel's master
- Simon Lovelace
- Jessica Whitwell, Minister of security
- Rupert Deveraux, Prime Minister of Britain
- Mr. Schyler
- Sholto Pinn
- Kitty Jones, youthful member of the Resistance
- Martha Underwood
- Bartimaeus, a mid-level djinn
- Ramuthra, a powerful spirit
- Simpkin, a Foliot
- The Resistance
Magical objects, spells and places
- Amulet of Samarkand, so named for ancient city of Samarkan, Uzbekistan, where it was forged; grants wearer immunity to magical attack
- scrying glass
- 'other place'
Nathaniel becomes an apprentice Magician after his parents forfeit him (as a very young child) to the magicians' adoption service in return for some money. His master, Arthur Underwood, is a mediocre magician and the Minister of Internal Affairs. Underwood is unwilling to having an apprentice while his wife, Martha, warmly welcomes Nathaniel.
Throughout his youth, noteworthy events embitter Nathaniel towards Underwood. One year before the events of the novel Underwood hosts a gathering of magicians in his villa. Upon his presentation to the other magicians, Nathaniel (age 10 at the time) is interviewed by his later antagonist Simon Lovelace who dismisses Nathaniel's obvious powers for magic. Nathaniel retorts impolitely and incurs Lovelace's wrath, in the form of an invisible demon which holds him immobile, allowing Lovelace to deride his helpless condition. Once he is released, Nathaniel sets a fleet of mites upon Lovelace, which he easily destroys, and is punished with a beating from one of Lovelace's imps. Ms. Lutyens, his admired art teacher, attempts to waylay the punishment and gets fired.
Following his experience, Nathaniel vows to become his own master and learns from the books in Underwood's study while also plotting the downfall and humiliation of his nemesis Lovelace. Using a rudimentary scrying glass Nathaniel spies on Lovelace. One night he witnesses him paying a bearded mercenary after receiving a suspicious package. The imp in the glass quotes the mercenary as saying that the package is the Amulet of Samarkand. Days after his twelfth birthday, Nathaniel summons the djinn Bartimaeus, a cocky spirit with a grudge against his slavers --- the magicians. Bartimaeus, expecting a ridiculous and simple charge, such as levitating an object, is instead charged with the highly dangerous, unexpected command to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace. While fulfilling his charge Bartimaeus runs into Faquarl and Jabor, two djinn under Lovelace's employ, the former of whom harbors a mutual grudge with Bartimaeus spanning thousands of years, the latter being a particularly dangerous and vicious djinn. After escaping Faquarl and Jabor, Bartimaeus is also accosted in an alleyway by a mysterious gang of youths, who attempted to steal the Amulet from him, somehow spotting it under Bartimaeus's clothes. The youths are later revealed to be the Resistance.
Bartimaeus is summoned back to Nathaniel who orders him to hide the amulet in Underwood's study for safekeeping. Charged to return to Nathaniel after completing that task, Bartimaeus is with him when Mrs. Underwood calls the boy by his birth name "Nathaniel", thus awarding the djinn with ammunition against the young magician. The use of the birth name acts as a defense mechanism against corporal punishment. Nathaniel counteracts this with a Perpetual Confinement spell on a sealed tin of rosemary (agonising to spirits) which guarantees Bartimaeus' servitude for one month and the safety of Nathaniel. Later, Nathaniel is officially named as John Mandrake. That night John/Nathaniel accompanies the Underwoods to parliament in for the state address. Nathaniel witnesses a wild looking youth release an elemental sphere into the throng of magicians at the address which results in a large explosion of trapped elements; an attack of the Resistance.
Bartimaeus was further ordered to spy on Simon Lovelace and to discover all he can about his acquaintances and the Amulet of Samarkand. He disguises himself as a messenger imp, after accosting Lovelace's genuine messenger, and travels to Pinn's Accoutrements to learn of the amulet. Simpkin, Sholto Pinn's foliot assistant, reveals that the amulet had been under government protection before it had been stolen. Then Bartimaeus' cover is blown by Pinn, he botches his escape and is detained in the Tower of London, preventing Nathaniel from summoning him. After Nathaniel fails to clean up his room after his attempted summoning, Underwood discovers Nathaniel's covert operation and confiscates his summoning paraphernalia and notes detailing his plot against Lovelace. However, before he can examine these notes Underwood is called to the Tower of London so he may interrogate Bartimaeus (unbeknownst to Nathaniel). When he returns later, Nathaniel spies on him using the scrying glass but is caught by his master. Before his master can punish him, Lovelace presents himself at the door and demands Underwood's attention.
Previously, Bartimaeus had awoken in the Tower to be unsuccessfully interrogated by Sholto Pinn and Jessica Whitwell, the Minister of Security. Jabor and Faquarl assist Bartimaeus in escaping the Tower on condition that he reveal the location of the Amulet and his master. In order to protect his master, and thus avoid perpetual confinement, Bartimaeus refuses and escapes by igniting the car petrol that Faquarl had been covered in during the escape. Bartimaeus then unwittingly leads Lovelace's servants to the Underwood house. Lovelace threatens Underwood with violence when Underwood expresses ignorance to the alleged theft of an artifact. After quailing under Lovelace's magical intimidations, Underwood leads Lovelace to his study where the amulet is discovered. Nathaniel then reveals himself as the thief in an act Bartimaeus deems suicidal. Underwood then betrays Nathaniel by encouraging Lovelace to kill the boy but let him live. In spite of this, Lovelace summons Jabor to destroy the house, Underwood, Mrs. Underwood and Nathaniel; but Nathaniel survives, thanks to Bartimaeus.
Instead of fleeing the country after escaping the fire, Nathaniel promises to seek revenge for his beloved Mrs. Underwood's death and forces Bartimaeus to help by reminding him of the rosemary tin should he betray him. An angered Bartimaeus threatens to kill him because he believes that either way he will end up in the tin and encourages Nathaniel to free him then and now, but resolves to try to keep him alive after Nathaniel promises to free him after this final task. Nathaniel meets by chance some members of the Resistance, yet fails to infiltrate the group and furthermore has his scrying glass stolen. After this fiasco, Nathaniel and Bartimaeus travel to Heddlehem Hall in order to stop Lovelace's plot against the government. The pair arrive disguised as a delicatessen manager and his son and Nathaniel slips past Faquarl, who is present in the kitchen at the hall. Bartimaeus attempts to kill the mysterious bearded mercenary, who has become alerted to Nathaniel's plot by the delicatessen people whose van was stolen as a disguise. The mercenary displays an extraordinary resistance to magic and a pair of seven league boots, which grant him exceptional speed. Meanwhile, Nathaniel is discovered by Lovelace and his master Schyler. After Lovelace leaves the room to set his plans in motion, Schyler offered Nathaniel an ultimatum: to join Lovelace in his new order or die. Nathaniel manages to kill Schyler using petty magical firework-cubes and he and Bartimaeus arrive in time for the conference.
The room in which the Parliament commune is promptly sealed shut both physically and magically. Nathaniel attempts to warn the seated magicians of the coup, but is unknowingly foiled by Jessica Whitwell, who places him in an impenetrable bubble. The extravagant Persian rug displayed under a floor of glass is pulled away mechanically to reveal an enormous pentacle. Lovelace then blows an ancient summoning horn and calls forth the immensely strong spirit Ramuthra through a rift, who proceeds to warp reality on the seven planes and destroy the surrounding magicians and djinn. Jabor is summoned to destroy Bartimaeus but is tricked into flying toward the summoning rift and is trapped in its attractive field. After this, Bartimaeus, disguised as Lovelace's girlfriend Amanda, distracts Lovelace and allows Nathaniel to steal the amulet. Ramuthra obliterates Lovelace. Nathaniel surprises Bartimaeus by knowing the required method of dismissal. In this climactic moment, the culmination of Nathaniel's disastrous experiences and thirst for knowledge are appeased when he speaks the words of dismissal and cracks the summoning horn. After Ramuthra and the rift disappear, Nathaniel dramatically limps over to the half buried form of the prime minister Rupert Devereaux and lays the Amulet in his hands. After recounting a modified version of events which belittles Bartimaeus' achievement, advocates the role of Mrs. Underwood and neglects the less admirable experiences, Nathaniel becomes the quiet hero of the government. The outside world remains ignorant of his heroic acts, yet Nathaniel is satisfied with a true magician's lifestyle under a new master, Jessica Whitwell.
Finally, Nathaniel dismisses Bartimaeus with a mutual agreement that he will never summon Bartimaeus again and that Bartimaeus never reveal Nathaniel's birth name to other spirits and other magicians. Before he is dismissed, Bartimaeus attempts to warn Nathaniel against the typical road of a magician involving power-seeking behavior, materialism, and a generally shallow existence, also adding that Nathaniel should beware of his new master. Bartimaeus tells Nathaniel that he has something other magicians lack, something that he should guard, a conscience. In spite of feelings that this attempt is in vain, his last thoughts before dismissal are those of hope for his young master.
- A 2004 ALA Notable Book
- A 2004 Best Books for Young Adults Top Ten Pick
- A Bank Street 2004 Best Book of the Year
- A Booklist Top 10 Fantasy Book for Youth 2004