Friday, June 7, 2013

Ptolemy's Gate

Boy magician Nathaniel tightens his grip on the reins of power with help from his faithless djinn, Bartimaeus; meanwhile, Kitty Jones searches for a way to bring England's tyrannical magicians down.

Nathaniel, known as John Mandrake, is becoming increasingly disillusioned with the petty jostling for power that he sees among England's oligarchy of magicians. The prime minister is weak and paranoid, the war in America is going badly, and Nathaniel's role is limited to writing bad propaganda to convince the increasingly restless commoners that war is great. In his need for a connection, he's worn Bartimaeus down to a dripping pile of essence, fatally weakening the 5,000-year-old djinn by keeping him in constant service (without frequent trips back to the Other Place, demons die).

Meanwhile, Kitty Jones is secretly being awesome and has taken Bartimaeus's lessons from the last book to heart. She's searching for information about the enslaved demons to figure out how to free humanity from its cycle of magical tyranny, commoner revolt, rinse, repeat. We get great scenes between her and Bartimaeus as these two characters size each other up.

Woven throughout are scenes that finally illuminate Bartimaeus' deep friendship with the Egyptian boy, Ptolemy, which has been hinted at but never revealed in the other books.

This series is all about the characters: I want more scenes between Nathaniel and Bartimaeus, and Nathaniel and Kitty, and Bartimaeus and Kitty, and all three together. The way that each rubs up against the other is fascinating, and I am so relieved to see Nathaniel leave his terrible teens behind as he realizes the bigger picture and the horrible role he's been playing in the world so far. He's lost most of his annoying foppish tendencies, which is a shame since it was always fun to see Bartimaeus needle his master.

Storywise, the threads spun in the first two books all come together in an incredibly frightening and bloody climax (though I still find Gladstone's afrit from The Golem's Eye the creepiest thing ever). It's definitely not for readers on the younger end of YA. (For younger readers who like grim fantasy, start them with Suzanne Collins' Gregor the Overlander series instead and let them work their way up to Bartimaeus.)

I can't comment on the series without saying that the end broke my heart. I almost cried. I had hoped for an eleventh-hour rescue, and didn't believe what had happened until the last page forced me to. I loved Nathaniel/Bartimaeus/Kitty, and didn't want it to end that way for them, though I accept that there was no other way to end the story without it feeling like a cheat. Still, boo for making me care and then breaking my heart.

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