Judith's Reviews > The Amulet of Samarkand

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
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it was ok
bookshelves: young-adult, fantasy

If the quality of a book rested solely on its plot, this would be an excellent novel. The general plot is, of course, standard fantasy fare (save the world!) but its details and the world built to drive it is unique. Also, there appears to be a second plot running under the main one which will obviously be continued in the later books, and this plot seems much more promising.

Story-wise, this first installment in The Bartimaeus Trilogy is respectably good. However, the writing failed to appeal to me in many ways that, were they not already in my possession, I might not even bother with the next two books. Jonathan Stroud somehow manages to write with so much distance between the narrator(s) and the readers — even when he’s telling the story in first person through Bartimaeus. This is partly because Bartimaeus is vain and patronizing, but mostly because even the first-person narrative sounds like a third-person omniscient storyteller is telling it, only with “I’s”.

The gratuitous footnotes did not help. I’ve seen authors incorporate even the most long-winded of footnotes smoothly and sparingly that they don’t disrupt the narrative. This book has too much of them, however, and most of them were either useless or flat-out unamusing. It makes me wonder if Mr. Stroud let an editor touch his book (he is, after all, an editor himself). Some of the footnotes are entertaining, but halfway through the book I was so sick of Bartimaeus’ self-satisfied, conceited remarks that I wanted to scream every time I saw a superscript. A number of the useful footnotes could also have been incorporated into the normal narrative with a bit of rearrangement. It would have been easier to absorb, would have saved me from moving my eyes, and would have kept the book flowing smoothly.

To cap off the distant, flat narrative, and the distracting footnotes, Nathaniel and Bartimaeus are so remarkably unsympathetic, I felt none of the usual drive to finish a book as soon as possible because I really didn’t care much about what was going to happen to them. I like the flawed hero as much as the next (I’ve even written my share of really crrrrrrrrazy heroes) but no one in the book liked Nat and Barty (apart from two very one-dimensional characters) and they didn’t like anybody back — heck, they didn’t even like each other. This made them so isolated, it was nearly impossible to relate to them. Also, I don’t know how the author managed it, but his two heroes had such a bland relationship — even when fighting or hating each other.

In the end, I’m of two minds about recommending this book to anybody. The story is all right (nothing revolutionary, though interesting) but the humor falls flat, the prose is cold, and the characters are not very loveable.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 30, 2008 – Finished Reading
May 3, 2008 – Shelved
May 3, 2008 – Shelved as: young-adult
May 3, 2008 – Shelved as: fantasy

Comments Showing 1-25 of 25 (25 new)

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Mariah This is exactly how I felt about this book. Well said.

message 2: by Damian (last edited Feb 11, 2015 08:04AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Damian I agree that the author's storytelling approach feels very distant. I put the book down twice, once at about fifty pages in, then again about 62 pages later, and wondered why I had picked it up to begin with...

Strangely enough, I enjoyed this book more because the supposed protagonists were as flawed and dislikeable as any human being – Bartimaeus may not be human, but he has many similar failings. I like to think it's all part of a greater plot or relationship being constructed by the author to unite the forces his fictional world divides here and now... but maybe I'm thinking too far ahead.

message 3: by Zach (last edited Feb 13, 2010 10:25AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zach Judkins I would suggest reading the final two books of the trilogy. Most of this book is to get a general feel for the characters, and I have to admit I initially felt similiar to you, but the books get exponentially better and by the last book you may like them more. Admittingly it's not Shakespeare, and if you are not a fan of sarcasm it may not be the series for you. The series is, however, one of my favorites.

Judith Sadly, I have already read them all and still didn't much care for either character or the way in which the story is told, despite the fact that I am a fan of sarcasm.

It's really odd because I love snark and Bartimaeus is exactly the type of character I would normally love, but I really can't stand him.

message 5: by Sudheer (new)

Sudheer On the contrary i liked the bartimaeus character very much...he is arrogant,self centered and such a perfect match for nathaniel....
But the writing was really bad....and i agree about the footnotes....i read this book when i couldnt find any other book to read and there was nothing i could do for a whole week...
I would recommend this for someone to just pass some time....not as a serious read...
But bartimaeus srsly roxxxx....:P

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

This is much better than my own review, and sums up my feelings remarkably well.

message 7: by Em206 (new)

Em206 I agree, but the thing is the book was confusing. All of a sudden it would talk about one thing, then talk about another. Who I hate is that Simon dude...Ughh...He needs to get a life... but Nathaniel very much scared me...very much.

Heba I actually love the writing. Its a serious plot with humor to lighten up situations. perfect. In fact, the wording is mature and advanced soo....

Judith Heba wrote: "I actually love the writing. Its a serious plot with humor to lighten up situations. perfect. In fact, the wording is mature and advanced soo...."

Ah, to each their own, I suppose. It's nice that you enjoyed it. The wording is indeed mature and advanced, but I'm afraid big words and complex sentence structure are not enough for me to decide that a book is well written.

message 10: by Heba (new) - rated it 5 stars

Heba Judith wrote: "Heba wrote: "I actually love the writing. Its a serious plot with humor to lighten up situations. perfect. In fact, the wording is mature and advanced soo...."

Ah, to each their own, I suppose. I..."

Very true. People have different opinions and I can't argue with you. What book do you consider worthy of reading?

Judith Heba wrote: What book do you consider worthy of reading?

I would say almost every book is worthy of reading! Even this book that I didn't enjoy a lot was worthy of reading. However, in the genre of YA fantasy, my favorites are Garth Nix, Terry Pratchett, and Madeleine L'Engle. I'm reading "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" at the moment. Strangely enough, it reminds me a lot of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, and I'm really enjoying it.

Aaron Hawkins Well said

Claire I really like Bartimaeus, personally. In the situation that these demons are in, the only way to really function is being conceited, arrogant, intelligent and witty. Besides, he's not exactly going to be sweet to the people who have inslaved him time and time again.
I do agree with you that the footnotes disrupt the flow and make the book a difficult read (which it is) I still love them, and find them entertaining. Yes, it didn't flow, but I found that it's choppy maturity made up for a lack of silky smooth tale.
Funnily enough, I absolutely hate Nathaniel. He's incredibly annoying to me.

Michaela the plot is "save the world"????? not really...

Jasmine I'm only on the last 60 pages of the book but I feel the same way when it comes to the characters, neither of them really had any redeeming qualities. By the end I didn't really care who won either. The magicians system was already corrupt would it really matter if Simon Lovelace took over?

Mookeypoop Vo .... Guess it aint your type of book then and "save the world"? it not that where did you get that from?

Erica Throne You sum up pretty much how I feel about this book, though I have been kind of enjoying Nathaniel's side of the story line. I stopped reading the footnotes at about 50 pages in because I realized they were unnecessary and I found them tedious to read. Anything that pops the reader out of the story without really adding anything to the overall narrative is lazy writing. If you need the information in the book, then put it in the book. Otherwise, keep it in personal notes.
What's turned me off the most (besides the gratuitous footnotes) are the switches in point of view. Though Bartimaeus' story is mostly told from a first person perspective, Stroud frequently makes brief jumps into third person omniscient, sort of like a film actually, to show us something "neat." I found it jarring for the first section and almost dropped the book.
The writing is definitely more mature than your average novel for middle readers, but that shouldn't be mistaken for complexity. It's a sloppy book. I doubt I'll continue the series either.

message 18: by Tina (new)

Tina I'm only 40 pages in and I agree with your review most so far. I'm having a hard time getting into it. the footnotes are very long winded and very distracting. Most of all I feel like I've been plunged into the middle of some story.I get that the Bartimaeus is braking into a house to get the Amulet but I have no clue who or what else is going on. I guess I need to keep reading for that but I'm struggling.

Alfreda Morrissey The footnotes are driving me crazy! Plus I am trying to decide whether to read this to my kids. Would I just skip the footnotes? The first one, I thought, oh weird. By the third and fourth I was seriously annoyed. Most of them would have been fine just inserted directly rather than bothering with a footnote. It would have been much easier to read.

Houston Auer Well written. Don't agree with any of your points. Come on, the footnotes? Maybe your sense of humor died.

Judith Houston wrote: "Well written. Don't agree with any of your points. Come on, the footnotes? Maybe your sense of humor died."

As a fan of Terry Pratchett and his occasionally page-long footnotes, I'm pretty sure my sense of humor is intact.

message 22: by WYH4L84 (new) - added it

WYH4L84 As for the footnotes, as what's in the book, the djinni has more than one "consciousness" that stream off in different directions and I'm taking that as the reason for the sudden changes in topic. I'm not sure I remember correctly but the footnotes are only in Bartimaeus' POV. I may be wrong though.

Jackson I'm on the second book and it's pretty good.
I find the foot notes pretty funny actually.

Andrew O'Barton I totally agree with your comment about the footnotes, but I have a hard time putting down the book.

Morgane "If the quality of a book rested solely on its plot, this would be an excellent novel." I couldn't disagree more. Characters are more important than plot. See George R. R. Martin, Terry Pratchett, etc. Characters stay with you and make the stories.

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