The temperature of the room dropped fast. Ice formed on the curtains and crusted thickly around the lights in the ceiling.
In an alternate modern day London a young boy, Nathaniel is busy summoning what he would call a demon. Bartimaeus, the being summoned prefers the term djinni (genie), but he’d actually prefer not to be summoned at all. He’ll do anything he can to free himself from his master’s control. Especially when he learns that Nathaniel wants him to steal a very valuable amulet from a powerful amulet. But if Nathaniel remains careful and keeps to the rules then Bartimaeus must obey or face punishment and pain. Obeying also has its own worries, the guardians and security around the amulet. Not to mention the fact that the other djinn might learn that his master is all of eleven years old. Slightly embarrassing when you are a 5,000 year old djinni.
Stroud has created an interesting world in this book. One where magician’s rule England through the power of the djinn, and other beings, that they summon and control. These beings are never happy about being enslaved, and if they get the chance will kill their masters so that they can return back to where they come from. The magicians are the elites of this world, they have all the power, and the commoners have nothing.
In the occasional mentions of other countries and past centuries, we learn that not all lands have magicians in control. In some places the magic users have been overthrown, and commoners rule. But in England the magicians are in control. They run the government, they are the politicians, and they care very little for the lives of anybody but themselves.
But all that is simply backdrop to the story of Bartimaeus and Nathaniel as they both get pulled into intrigue and danger, all arising out of Nathaniel’s childish wish for revenge.
The narration of the book is divided between the usual, all-knowing narrator and Bartimaeus as a first person narrator, complete with footnotes. He operates on several planes at once you see, footnotes are his way of simplifying matters so that humans can understand. But Bartimaeus’ story is not that straight forward, occasionally it’ll seem as though the third person narrator has taken over, only for the reader to discover that no, it is still Bartimaeus telling the story, he is simply describing the form he has taken, and its actions as though it were someone else.
At first this switching between perspectives is a little distracting, but you soon get into it and it makes a lot of sense.
The book is a nice blend of humour, action and magic. Bartimaeus is probably more interesting than the other main protagonist, but Nathaniel is only eleven, it is understandable that he is slightly more straight-forward. I liked the fact that our two heroes don’t really like each other, they certainly don’t trust one another. Like all magician’s Nathaniel has been taught to fear and hate the spirits he summons and controls. And as for Bartimaeus, well it is easy to understand that he might not enjoy being at the back and call of any old human who knows the summoning spells.
I’ll look forward to the next two books in this trilogy.