- I read this book while having a little professional tussle of my own and eerily, at the same time that John Mandrake suffers the professional isolation at his workplace.
The third installment of most movies are the worst. I believe the same to be of interim books. While a trilogy would feel rather incomplete without a slower second book which often helps fill important gaps and introduces new story lines and subplots, they remain my least favourite.
- The magic of words, vocabulary, theories of life, philosophies and ideas are best exploited in books conventionally meant to be read by adults. But to truly have a book agitate you, to want to slam it shut and fling it across the room, to cry, to trigger little emotional points in you; it is the magic of a good story, a well written child-character, no matter how like-able or unlike-able. Here too, the book makes the cut.
- Beginning two years after the incident with Simon Lovelace, the book has Mandrake with his new master Jessica Whitwell and his new job at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Background chitter-chatter notwithstanding, his first task is to keep The Resistance in check, a group of individuals who have a natural resilience to magic and have come together to perturb and annoy, if not completely overthrow, the government.
This is what broadly happens
New characters are introduced; a certain feisty Miss Kitty Jones, part of the Resistance and their leader, Mr Pennyfeather, along with a few other members like Anne, Nick, Fred and Stanley. They make up The Resistance and after having been in the periphery for long, are planning to break into the magically protected grave of William Gladstone.*
Nathaniel is in-charge of putting a stop to the activities of The Resistance and he is frustrated at his own failures, his seniors’ dislike for his early success and is fighting hard to go up the ranks, relying solely on the Prime Minister’s bias towards him and his own superior magical abilities. In the middle of this chaos comes the deadly attack of a Golem, a creature long-thought to be unsummoned and out of existence, the secrets of summoning him, lost. But he’s alive and Nathaniel must find out more (with the help of Bartimaeus of course), for which he makes a short, could-be-thrilling-but-isn’t-quite trip to the once magical city of Prague.
The book is a lot about characters. The boy goes from being Nathaniel to John Mandrake; from passionate and compassionate to power-hungry and curt, Kitty Jones goes from fighting for her cause to fighting for her life, Bartimaeus displays his usual swagger and charm and floors you, the government goes from bad to worse, the mercenary appears to astound you and in an epic conclusion, Honorius the afrit rises from the grave, and the lives of Katleen Jones or Kitty, John Mandrake and Bartimaeus collide. The Golem tries, but cannot quite scare you. It really is Honorius’s show all the way, and even though the Golem is the core of the story, he doesn’t remain with you.
Yet, somewhere, the book tries to do a little too much and not quite a lot, in the same breath. For one, I’d have loved for Stroud to have brought out the magic and history of Prague richly. Instead, what we have is a few paragraphs where Bartimaeus ‘still feels the old magic through the walls’ and some such half-attempts at trying to invoke a lost past.
Even if a little blotchy, it introduces some characters that you know will play a larger role in the final book. Look out for dramatist Quentin Makepeace and historian Mr Hopkins. By the end of the book, you’re almost sure that the story is solved or at least where to look (or maybe I am getting too old). So is Bartimaeus. Which is the biggest turn off, because you can see that John Mandrake has officially turned into a thick-headed just-another-magician who cannot see something so plainly laid out in front of his eyes. Yet, he doesn’t and we must be a little disappointed with what the book offers and what it could have.
But not all hope is gone; and the relationship that will be between Kitty and Nathaniel (I keep having this desire to call him Nate). When you’re reading a book a little below the general literary order, you excite at the little hints a writer drops to reveal of what is to come.
For Mandrake and Kitty’s future, there’s this:
“…from what he had seen of her (Kitty), she appeared to have remarkable energy, talent and willpower, far more than any of the great magicians…In some odd way she had reminded Nathaniel of himself, and it was almost a pity she was gone…”
But Stroud didn’t entirely miss…
His brilliant footnotes sparkle through, even if Bart takes the back foot here and the footnotes are fewer. His ‘demonic’ perspective of events past is a welcome ‘what if’ one can never tire of speculating. The narrative without him is a little frustrating, but that’s not bad because it is after all, The Bartimaeus Trilogy. You do want more of him, oh so much more.
The struggle of The Resistance also reflects the frustration of perhaps the entire world and while you want them to triumph, you know it won’t happen. Which kinda makes you angry. You’re either a little angry or a little bored throughout, to be really honest.
If you look at it in hindsight, it does nothing more than lay the foundations of the third book with the climactic entity that seems like it is only meant to outdo Ramuthra, the demon entity from The Amulet of Samarkand. This one’s only for Kitty and Bartimaeus.
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*You might remember him as the Hero of Prague, the Father of Great Britain. The Resistance wants a purse which never runs out of money. The man who is helping them, wants the Staff that Gladstone used to destroy Prague. We know which battle means more.
Despite his crimped shirts and flowing mane (or perhaps because of them) I had seen no evidence as yet that Nathaniel even knew what a girl was. If he’d ever met one, chances are they’d both have run screaming in opposite directions.
Recommended Age Group: If the kid is a reader, no age is too young. Otherwise, 10-12 is a good time.
Final Verdict: ??? – Make a purchase. Maybe an online purchase, or a kindle purchase. But buy it, encourage it.
You can buy the book here.
*Feature Image Courtesy – Ebookee