Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Golem's Eye

Rebel Kitty Jones and her group threaten young magician Nathaniel's rise to power, so he summons the quick-witted djinni Bartimaeus to take care of them - and defeat the unstoppable creature threatening London's magical treasures.

There are now three point-of view characters: we have the always-delightful demon Bartimaeus, the overly ambitious but clever Nathaniel (now known as John Mandrake), and the energetic hero, Kitty Jones. Stroud brings back all the magic mayhem of The Amulet of Samarkand and gives me exactly what I hoped for: a look into the alternate world he's created, where England's empire stretches across the world well into the modern era thanks to their greedy but powerful magicians.

Poor Nathaniel. I can't help but like him, though he does absolutely nothing right. Getting into the government (as John Mandrake) has worsened his character. His hunger for power and vengeful tendencies are only exacerbated once he enters the insular, back-stabbing society of high-level magicians. He continues to treat Bartimaeus badly, calling him "slave" and generally being a brat. His cleverness is his one redeeming quality - and even that only makes him worse as a person.

Bartimaeus is his usual snarky, shape-shifting self, outraged at being summoned from his comfy Other Place to serve as Nathaniel's gofer. Understandably, he's irritated by being forced to take orders from someone 4,986 years younger than himself and our favorite demon is still quicker to hide than risk harming his essence in a fight.

Kitty is the real hero of this book. I think Stroud realized he needed a wholly likable character for balance, since Bartimaeus and Nathaniel spend every scene with each other as antagonists. (And Nathaniel is such a toad in this book.*) Kitty is a commoner (non-magician) with an unusual gift who recognizes the injustice of the magical oligarchy and wants to gain rights for her fellow British citizens. She's great, and she's the perfect antidote to Nathaniel.

It's an increasingly dark world, full of casual violence and blatant injustice where might makes right. I loved it, and I can't wait to see what happens to these characters in Ptolemy's Gate, the final book in the series. For older readers who love His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman or Garth Nix's The Keys to the Kingdom series.

*Not literally. That wasn't a spoiler. Bartimaeus is more likely to be a literal toad in these books.

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