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 Post subject: A wonderful dark alternative to Harry (Bartimeus Trilogy)
PostPosted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 11:58 am 
The Little Manic
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Joined: Wed Nov 16, 2005 12:32 pm
Posts: 2891
Location: Dublin
Hello, my dear 'Trepids.

It has been a long time - if at all - since I reviewed a book series here, but this time I simply have to stand up and be counted as someone who is amazed by this excellent trilogy by a relatively young Brit from Bedford, a certain Mr. Jonathan Stroud. The series I am talking about is the Bartimeus trilogy, which has since established a place amongst my all-time favourite books.

In the alternate reality the books are taking place in, Magic exists, but far from hiding their talents, the Magicians have taken power whenever they could and "presently" rule the British Empire and through it most of Europe, India and the colonies in America. The glory and power of the Empire are waning thoug as it's ruling class of seven grows ever more complacent and decadent. Rebellions flare in every corner and old foes, forced into treaties, smell the weakness and are biding their time.

The secret of success of the ruling class is the enslavement of entities from another dimension, commonly referred to as demons by the magicians. These entities are summoned and then bound into service - providing all the legendary powers their masters are famous for. Without a summoned or bound servant, they are just human, as powerless as the so-called commoners they look down on in disdain. Working with demons is risky business, since the blasted creatures for some obscure resent being dragged out of their home and enslaved again and again for centuries. Given half a chance, they will alert their summoner to these feelings by dismembering, swallowing or otherwise ending his existance.

One of the main characters of the book are Bartimeus, a 5000 year old Genie, self-professed master of all trades, in particular that of snarky back-talk. While he has no qualms killing humans when ordered to or provoked, he does not go for random slaughter and considers himself to be mild-mannered. Magicians of course are another matter, he routinely looks for weaknesses to exploit to gain back his freedom. Cynical, intelligent and refreshingly honest, he is probably the most unbiased chronicler of the world these books are set in. While he - like all spirits (they don't like to be called demons) can take whatever shape he wants, his favourite form is that of a young Egyptian boy. I will not go any further into who exactly he copies, as I want to keep this spoiler-free.

The other is Nathaniel, a boy of 12 (in the first book) and a magician. While he does have a certain moral compass and tries to do what is "best for the Empire", he is not immune to the lure of personal power. Also he does not question the "natural order" of things where the commoners are basically cattle that need to be led. It is uncertain if in the end his better qualities or his lust for power will prevail. An extremely multi-facetted character that I pittied, hated and loved at different times in the story - not necessarily in this order.

With an excellent mix of comedy, drama, multidimensional characters and a great storyline with many unexpected turns and twists and the - as far as I can judge - the total absence of major plotholes, these books can only be recommended. The second volume "The Golem's Eye" is a bit weaker than the other two, but still entertaining and worth reading.

I am Zoser and I strongly recommend these books! :)
[9.5 out of 10 - thanks to the slightly weaker seconf volume - the first and last would be a sound 10 out of 10]


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