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31 December 2007 @ 10:59 am
THE BARTIMAEUS TRILOGY #2: THE GOLEM'S EYE by Jonathan Stroud (4.5 stars)  
Sequel to THE AMULET OF SAMARKAND, a New York Times bestseller, THE GOLEM'S EYE is the second part of THE BARTIMAEUS TRILOGY, a young adult fantasy series told in multiple points of view. You'll definitely want to read the first installment before venturing into this one.

Throughout the ages, all great empires have had one thing in common -- they were ruled by magicians. The Mongols, The Egyptians, The Greeks, The Romans, and now the British. This modern-day, alternate-reality London is segregated, not by race, but by magical ability. The government's lawmaking is biased against the non-magical humans, along with everything else under the magicians' control. It is in this environment of oppression that the magician youth Nathaniel, A.K.A. John Mandrake, has been appointed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to hunt down and arrest those responsible for The Resistance.

Failing so far in his investigations and finding himself under intense pressure from his superiors, Nathaniel is forced to summon our favorite djinni from book 1, Bartimaeus. Rude, surly, cheeky, and often hilarious, Bartimaeus' character entertains and lightens the mood throughout. Only a third of the chapters are written from Bartimaeus' point of view; the other chapters are from the view of Nathaniel and Kitty Jones, our human protagonist who has the innate ability to resist magic. Their worlds intertwine as 1) The Resistance attempts to subvert the magicians' power by pulling off their most audacious feat of rebellion yet, 2) Nathaniel tries to locate those responsible for The Resistance, and 3) a mysterious third-party magic wreaks havoc on the streets of London.

Even though the political/racial oppression provides a strong backdrop for the story, the overarching theme feels at times undeveloped and underutilized. The story focuses much more on getting the plot done than mining the humanity within this richly magical, political, and social situation. And while this will likely not bother most readers, it did leave me wanting more. Because the plot moves along so fast, the characters don't get the attention they deserve. Bartimaeus is brushed aside in this volume and makes hardly any strides in his character arc. Hopefully, his thoughts about freedom will be developed in the final book. Nathaniel's character becomes much darker and arguably more evil during his investigations and pursuit of becoming like Gladstone, the infamous and powerful magician of the past. At this point, it's difficult to see how Nathaniel's lust for power could lead him anyplace but destruction. Kitty's character is the most developed of the three, as we get to see the pain of her past and the desperation of her present, the freedom her resistance to magic gives her to pursue her revenge. She's a great character.

Despite its minor disappointments, THE GOLEM'S EYE is a solid sequel in the series. The characters are mostly endearing, the politics and magic of this world are fantastically inventive, and the action is face-paced and well-woven. Murderous conspiracies, dystopian governments, racial discrimination, magicians' battles, mysterious crypts, dark golems, possessed skeletons, poisonous silver weapons -- they all add to the intrigue and excitement of this 2nd of 3 novels. On to the final installment!

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christinenorrischristinenorris on December 31st, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC)
You gotta read the last one. THE GOLEM'S EYE, like all middle books of a trilogy, opens more questions than it answers.

The last book will not disappoint. Promise.
The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephensjonstephens on January 1st, 2008 08:25 pm (UTC)
Cool. I'm looking forward to it now.