"I am Bartimaeus! I am Sakhr Al-Jinni. I am N'Gorso The Mighty and the Serpent Of Silver Plumes... I have spoken with Solomon...rebuilt the walls of Uruk, Karnak and Prague."Bartimaeus of the Bartimaeus Trilogy
I love books but I absolutely loathe writing blog posts about books because no one really reads them1. Maybe it's because (I think) a large bit of my readers are medical students - and whenever you recommend a good paperback to them, they'll give you that saucer-eyed look of utter disbelief and go; "You got time to read storybooks, ar? Got time go study-lar, diu!"
And let us not forget that most Malaysians who claim to "love reading" actually have only read the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings (which they gave up on after struggling through the first two pages) and The Da Vinci Code sitting and playing catch-the-dust on their vastly empty bookshelves2.
Okay, that filled my destructive criticism quota of the day. Here's what I really want talk about,
This goes out to all Harry Potter fans out there (and fans of general children fantasy); I have something to tide you guys over while you wait for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows make the biggest publication debut of the decade,
Presenting, the Bartimaeus Trilogy!
First thing I learnt about recommending books is that people are always, always skeptical about whatever reads you try to shove down their throats, but let me assure you this; every single person I managed to
Remember Disney's interpretation of Aladdin? Remember that crazy, blue genie voiced by the immensely gifted Robin Williams who practically sweats talent from his pores? Well, the protagonist (and semi-narrator - I'll explain later) of the Bartimaeus Trilogy is a genie, or as the books spelled it, djinni too.
Book 1: The Amulet of Samarkand
Just imagine a dystopian London in an alternate history setting (tentatively in the 1990's) which is governed by an elite class of corrupted, back-stabbing Magicians3. The Commoners know next to zilch about magic and are purposefully kept under-educated so the government officials can keep them in line easily. It's a like a kiddie version of 1984, but with magic!
But these corrupt, magician-cum-politicians have a deep, dark secret.
All their spells, hokery-pokeries and magical knickknacks have their source in 'demons' or 'spirits', which the Magicians summon and enslave. The cool thing about the magic in this trilogy is that it did not stem from some genetic disposition that allows people to shoot stuff from a cissy sticks with the help of a two-cent Latin phrase *coughPottercough*. The Magicians in these novels actually have to go through years of training, learn a dozen dead languages (Hebrew, Ancient Egyptian, Coptic etc), engage in physical exercises to build up stamina, and attend technical drawing classes to produce the intricate pentagrams/pentacles prerequisitive of the summoning rituals.
Why so much work, you might ask.
The answer is simple. If they make the slightest mistake while summoning a spirit - a line not drawn straight in the pentacle or a mispronounced syllable in the summoning spell (or even a spell spoken in a rustic accent); the spirit they summon can turn onto them and tear them into tiny bite-sized pieces, with a little cocktail toothpick in each besides.
You are liking this trilogy already, aren't you?
The books also feature one of my favourite fictional characters of all time: the sarcastic, witty, sassy, cheeky, resourceful, vain, sly, infuriating, irrepressible, lovable, egomaniacal, cool-as-a-popsicle, side-splitting funny, shape-shifting 5000-year-old third level djinni4 called Bartimaeus. No amount of adjectives can do him justice, I tell you, and kid you not.
Half the books are narrated by this character, giving you a first person point-of-view of his doings, his tasks and missions, and his general bullshits. The best bits are his "footnotes" (like the ones at the bottom of this post) in which he breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to you (the reader). In them, he would either offer a bit of trivia about famous spirits or magicians, funny asides, insults to his enslaving masters, or just cover-ups for embarrassing moments he blundered into in the main story.
You'll laugh your stomach inside out reading them, I promise. Heck, if you can finish all 3 of these books without laughing out loud even once, I'll get a penis amputation done.
The other chapters (which are more sober) features Bartimaeus' master, a shrimpy boy named Nathaniel, which I often refer to as "Harry Potter's less popular, corrupted and ambition-mad cousin". These parts are narrated from a third person's point-of-view. In the first book, Nathaniel is an 11-year-old apprentice to a lowly Magician, the Minister of Internal Affairs. We'll be following his story, his rises and falls in the government of magical Britain and his oft-strained, oft-hilarious relationship with Barty.
Here, I'll give you a short of the first book from Wikipedia to get you panting,
A young magician's apprentice, Nathaniel, secretly summons the irascible 5,000 year old djinni, Bartimaeus, to do his bidding. The task for Bartimaeus is not an easy one- he must steal the powerful Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a master magician of unrivalled ruthlessness and ambition. Before long, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel are caught up in a terrifying flood of magical intrigue, rebellion and murder. Nathaniel learns quickly that he may have gotten into a plot much more in depth than he and his djinni can cope with.
My favourite book is Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (which impressed me like no book had) but the Bartimaeus trilogy remains the most easily enjoyable read I have ever own the pleasure to read. Honestly, do yourself a favour and get the trilogy now! Gosh below, that made me sound like a late night TV shill!
If you don't trust me, go read an excerpt of the books HERE in the official site (complete with the footnotes I harped about).
And to get further instances of Barty's legendary sense of humour and wit; check out this hilarious guide to London written from that zany djinni's point-of-view in Jonathan Stroud's (the author's) website. Whenever he refers to 'an unknown djinni' or 'certain anonymous djinni' - well - let's just say he's not being particularly honest about the anonymity bit.
And here's Barty's "blog". Damn, I love the author to bits, I tell you.
P.S. To Manipalites, all 3 books of the trilogy are now available in the B.I Publications bookstore (formerly Higginbottoms or something like that). To everyone else who are lucky enough to have a MPH or Borders or Kinokuniya within driving distance, the books are there. Go get 'em!
P.P.S. I finished reading the trilogy a year ago actually. It's just that suddenly in class today, I felt a sudden and overwhelming feeling of regret that there aren't more books like these.
P.P.P.S. A movie of the first book is slated for release in 2009 (directed by one John Madden of Shakespeare in Love fame). Frankly, I'm expecting the flick to flop because; how the hell are they going to translate Barty's footnotes - the best darn parts of the trilogy - to the big screen?
P.P.P.P.S. The comment section below may contain spoilers. You've been warned.
P.P.P.P.P.S. In a wholly unrelated note, the season 1 finale of Heroes is about to finish beaming down into my laptop from the interweb in less than an hour's time.
Addendum: Season finale of Heroes was crap. More about that in my next post. Maybe.
Huge, rabid fan of Bartimaeus,
k0k s3n w4i
1 Both; books and blog posts about books.
2 Not a surprising fact, considering that the average Malaysian thinks that Harry Potter is the pinnacle of 'hi-crass literatchur'.
3 Oh yeah - none of those pansy wizard Ministers you see in Harry Potter that are just too pussy-fied to use their l33t magic powarz to subjugate the Muggles.
4 There are generally 5 classes of commonly summoned spirits in Bartimaeus' universe; imps, foliots, djinnis, afrits and marids - from the wimpiest to the über-awesome-est, in that order.