The review of “The Amulet of Samarkand”, the first part of this series, can be found here;
It is said time and again that an opposition party and the same opposition party which has just won the election are two different things altogether. I suppose this remark is equally pertinent when it comes to people : if an underdog becomes a successful hero he/she must and should change. In what direction will the change go, though?
More than two years had passed since the rebellion of Simon Lovelace, prevented by Bartimaeus and Nathaniel. Our hero is now known solely as John Mandrake (his birth-name must be kept secret literally from everybody, friend or foe; in fact, apart from Nathaniel himself, only Bartimaeus knows it but he is in the Other Place). Instead of an undervalued, mistreated weedy boy of twelve we see suddenly a successful young man of almost fifteen, apprenticed to one of the most powerful magicians in the country, a prominent member of the government, Ms Jessica Whitwell. We had glimpsed this lady shortly in the previous book, torturing poor Bartimaeus in the Tower of London. She looks mighty like Cruella DeVill but she is far cleverer and definitely tougher. Her new apprentice tries to match her - Nathaniel is now fashionably dressed and lives in her spacious apartment near the Westminster enjoying such fantastic amenities as a walk-in wardrobe and a bathroom en-suite (swoon! I had to mention it! it was written by a guy about a teen boy!). He also becomes rather arrogant and full of himself. Small wonder, even the Prime Minister, Rupert Devereaux, is personally interested in his career (Nathaniel saved his life after all). Having received a stipend from the government, our protagonist was also employed in the Department of Internal Affairs, led by Ms Whitwell, and it is not a sinecure, far from it. Clearly Nathaniel has been earmarked for top jobs in the future. He is climbing the social ladder at great speed.
Not everything is exactly rosy, though. Nathaniel swiftly discovers that he has been transferred to an even more hostile environment than the household of his previous master - many magicians and apprentices hate him simply because they are deeply jealous of his privileged position and talent (no surprises here). He must watch his back (or make others watch it) constantly. Among such people he can’t make true friends – he has to deal with either temporary allies, more or less willing, or sworn enemies, more or less overt. That’s why he is missing his old pal Bartimaeus more and more with every passing day (he had to dismiss the djinn right after the demise of Lovelace, such had been their mutual agreement). True, he can have other magical entities at his disposal now but they are neither as intelligent nor as straightforward and truthful as his old companion. What’s more, Nathaniel still must produce outstanding results in order not to change from a rising star into a short-lived meteor. This time the task might seem a bit easier – uncovering and eliminating an elusive group of Commoners, mostly children or teenagers, called the Resistance.
He had met them before and even has had a score to settle with them as they had mugged him, taking the last keepsake of his previous life, his hand-made scrying mirror. In this book, we get to know the Resistance a lot better. This small but efficient organization, led by a girl called Kitty Jones and an elderly man called Mr. Pennyfeather, is a group of people who had been hurt, neglected and/or injured by magicians, usually without any valid reason. Some of them had tried (and failed) to find justice in courts. As a result, they had got an awfully big grudge against the establishment; they don’t believe in the system anymore and some of them are immune to different forms of magic. It is, by the way, a perfect example how any dictatorship might create really formidable enemies just being too self-important to notice big tragedies of small folk. DIY foes, nothing less. On the other hand, it is also a showcase how your morale must deteriorate when you get too accustomed to committing crimes day in day out.
As the pressure mounts, Nathaniel becomes even more distracted by a series of terrifying attacks on the capital, performed by a very powerful being. Now everyone expects him, the golden boy, to solve the imbroglio and save the day; however, with enemies and traitors around, it certainly won’t be easy. Time to summon Bartimaeus again but will he be really happy, seeing this new Nathaniel, so similar in some aspects to his old nemesis Simon Lovelace?
The second part of this series I liked even better than the first. The introduction of Kitty and other Resistance people with their personal histories was a perfect addition to the plot, making the whole story more touching and believable. Mechanisms of power, described by Stroud, are dark, ruthless and tantalizing, in short taken straight from our political life - really something I enjoyed and appreciated as an adult reader. After all, nobody said children’s books must be dull and syrupy sweet. We also witness a dynamic development of the character of Nathaniel/John Mandrake and the Resistance members as well; although, from time to time we might not be sure whether to love or to hate them.
Not enough of Bartimaeus (but it will change in the last book) and too many mediocre spiritual entities instead (with one prominent exception). Sure, those foliots and imps are funny but already their tricks have become a bit repetitive.
A fantastic read. Witty, intelligent, lively.