After the defeat of Prague, London is the leading city in the world, with its mighty magicians at the helm. The magicians with their unwilling slave entities (in increasing order of power: sprites, imps, foliots, djinn, afrits, mariads and so on) control the huge British empire with an iron fist. Most commoners are afraid of magicians, and/or hate them. Their magical slaves hate them and try to find even the smallest leeway to harm their masters. The magicians hide their names by taking “official” names, thereby making it hard for other magicians and their slaves to retaliate.
All in all, “Bartimaues Trilogy” by Jonathan Stroud is the story of an unwilling djinn, his once-upon-a-time innocent master and a girl who fights against them in the world of selfish and power-hungry magicians.
When a powerful magician Simon Lovelace humiliates an apprentice of a mediocre magician, he starts a chain of revenge. The apprentice, Nathaniel, is one of the most powerful magicians, and he summons a powerful djinn Bartimaeus to steal the powerful “Amulet of Samarkand” from his enemy. Unfortunately, Nathaniel cannot hide the powerful magical object like the amulet successfully, and ends up being responsible for the death of his master and his wife and destruction of their house. Forced to live on the road, with an uneasy truce with Bartimaeus, Nathaniel uncovers and thwarts the plot by Simon Lovelace to gain power, and in the process, gains the confidence of the present prime minister.
Working under a new master (rather, mistress), Nathaniel (now known officially as John Mandrake) gains more and more power. He goes against mighty magicians who are jealous of his “favourite” position with the Prime Minister and of his power and the “resistance”. He fights powerful magical enemies like a “Golem” and powerful mariads and djinns who are planning to take over the magicians’ world. He falls from the favour and is almost arrested for treason. Going against his promise to Bartimaeus, he calls his djinn again and again, keeping him in “material world” for long times. He tries to destroy the “resistance” and gains an unlikely ally in Kitty, a girl who is resistant to magic.
In the process, with his innate power, a lot of luck and Bartimaeus’s brains and power, he escapes arrests, possible death and even worse fate many times over, before somehow destroying or exposing his enemies and emerging victorious every time. Kitty finally forces John Mandrake to co-operate with Bartimaeus on equal footing, which enables them to use the Gladstone’s Staff and defeat the magicians’ erstwhile slaves (now masters).
The trilogy is the story of Nathaniel, an idealistic and innocent young boy, who believes in the ideal of powerful and benevolent magicians, helping the people of the empire by ruling them. When he learns the truth about magicians, at first he tries to live by his ideals, but in the process changes into John Mandrake, a magician who is as power hungry and selfish as the worst of them (which are not so different from the best of them). But at the core, he is the same Nathaniel, which he proves by his actions at the end.
The trilogy is also the story of Kitty (though she comes late in the story), a young girl who learns that she is resistant to the magicians’ magic. This knowledge, along with the hate towards magicians (because a magician sets his foliot on her and her friend, causing enormous injury to her friend) makes her join the “resistance” where she gains a prominent position by her intelligence. When she comes to know that the resistance is essentially magicless version of the magicians, she is disillusioned. She is the first person (after Ptolemy) who talks with Bartimaeus about co-operation between humans and magical entities, and proves by action that she trusts him, thereby gaining his confidence and respect.
But most of all, the trilogy is about Bartimaeus. Known as Sakhr al-Jinni, N’gorso the Mighty and the Serpent of Silver Plumes (and some more names in many other languages), he has more 5000 years of known history, and has at least one story and one footnote per year of his “life” (The guy talks in footnotes, and almost exclusively footnotes). While being intelligent and brave, he possesses an uncanny ability to get out of (sometimes literally) tight corners mostly without engaging in fights. This ability is what makes his valuable to Nathaniel, as Nathaniel and later John Mandrake blunders from mistake to mistake. Like any “normal” djinn, he hates his masters, except for Ptolemy (whom he “loves” by his own admission), who travelled to the “other place”, thereby proving that he trusts Bartimaeus with his life.
All in all, don’t read this trilogy for magic or magicians or djinns or fantasy or anything… The main ingredient which makes this story worth a solid 2.0 on BES is the narration by Bartimaeus. His taunts, sarcastic comments (“One magician demanded I show him an image of the love of his life. I rustled up a mirror” being but a small example) and observations on the magicians in general (and Nathaniel in particular) take the story to a completely new level, making it something beyond just a fantasy tale.
Quote of The Day:
Nathaniel: Do you take me for a fool?
Bartimaeus: The amulet in your hand answers that.