The Ravenmaster’s Secret

tower
When  I first saw Elvira Woodruff’s The Ravenmaster’s Secret: Escape from the Tower of London, I couldn’t help thinking how terribly interesting and ominous it appeared to be, and I wanted to buy the book, but it was a bit expensive so I decided to pass on it first.

Then some months later, I mooched a book from abroad that needed an additional mooch to help defray shipping costs, and I found a copy of this book in the member’s inventory so I decided to finally get it.

A couple weekends ago, I went out of town for a board meeting with one of my clients and brought this along to read while traveling, and it turned out to be one of the best historical middle-reader books I’ve ever read.

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The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

I finally finished the trilogy last night and I can’t get over the fact that it’s over, and I am posting a review in the attempt to get some closure (sniffle sniffle).Deathly Hallows spelled the end of an era for me and millions of Harry Potter fans, and I’ve long been in search of something else to sink my teeth into, but it’s often a disappointing experience (e.g. The Inheritance Trilogy [Eragon], the Charlie Bone series). The Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke was a great discovery, but it’s a different kind of fantasy, with a different feel to it, not to mention that we’re still waiting for the third installment and a final release date for the movie, for crying out loud. The Darren Shan Saga is great, too, it was even recommended by Rowling herself, but veers more towards blood and gore (not for the weak of heart and tummy!).

On a whim, I picked up The Amulet of Samarkand back in January using my 40% discount on Powercard Plus birthday blowout (thank you Powerbooks!), and then got The Golem’s Eye for a birthday present (thank you Andrea!)… And then I chanced upon a hardbound Ptolemy’s Gate at the Powerbooks VIP Sale (yahoo!)

I finally got to read the series recently, Amulet about two months ago, and then Golem’s Eye and Ptolemy’s Gate in the last few days because I simply couldn’t stop reading, even though I was supposed to be reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World for our discussion on Saturday (now I have to cram that).

Anyway, enough with the long intro and let’s get on with the good stuff (no spoilers, I promise).

The Bartimaeus Trilogy is a British fantasy series about an alternative London, a present-day London that is ruled by magicians, a blend of centuries-old magical tradition and modern technology. At the heart of the series is Nathaniel, a young magician; his wisecracking five thousand year old djinni Bartimaeus, and a renegade named Kitty Jones, and the forging of an extraordinary bond between these three characters.

Consistent with British magical lore (if you’ve read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, you’ll enjoy the Bartimaeus trilogy because it’s about twenty times more exciting), the book touches on magical apprenticeship, summoning magical creatures, political wars won with magic, the importance of birth names, and a host of magical creatures – imps, foliots, djinn, afrits, marids, and golems). It’s a bit darker than Harry Potter, and politics is a major theme, and there are lots of entertaining historical references, but everything ties together well with the story.

The Amulet of Samarkand starts out with Nathaniel’s apprenticeship, extraordinary magical aptitude, and his need to prove himself. Together with Bartimaeus, Nathaniel sets out to foil a government conspiracy involving the Amulet of Samarkand, with a few setbacks engineered by Kitty Jones and her team of ruffians. It’s an excellent introduction to the series, with the narrative between the perspectives of Bartimaeus and Nathaniel.

The Golem’s Eye sees Nathaniel rising in the ranks of government while Kitty Jones continues to thwart him, as her renegade group, the Resistance, wreaks trouble in the city. The second book is more transitional – it happens two years after Amulet, introduces Kitty’s perspective and establishes her as one of the central characters in the story, reveals a larger conspiracy that is a prelude to book 3, and lays out Nathaniel’s transformation into a ruthless and ambitious politician, John Mandrake.

Ptolemy’s Gate, which is easily the best of the three books, happens another couple of years later. Nathaniel is now London’s most powerful magician, and Kitty has changed her identity and apprenticed herself to a magician in her quest to learn more about Bartimaeus. Here the sinister conspiracy reveals itself, and Kitty, Nathaniel, and Bartimaeus must all overcome their personal differences and work together to save London and set things right. The book reveals a large part of Bartimaeus’ story, gives the wake up call that Nathaniel needs to regain his old self, and explores the relationship between human and djinn, building up to a thrilling climax that effectively concludes the saga.

It’s a perfect blend of all the right elements – humor, history, politics, ambition, adventure, excitement, survival, and compassion, and a great story that is contained completely within the three books, with a sense of finality to it, even though you want it to go on and on. I kept rereading the last few chapters because I couldn’t believe it was over, something that I haven’t done with a book in a long time.

Ok, now someone else should go read it already so I can pour my heart out. Waah.

***
My copy: Book 1 paperback upgraded into a hardcover with dustjacket (mooched from the US); Book 2 paperback upgraded into a hardcover without a dustjacket (mooched) then into a hardcover with a dustjacket (mooched again); book 3 hardcover with dustjacket from Powerbooks VIP sale. All US edition (Hyperion/Miramax). Paperback copies of Books 1 & 2 will be passed on to a moocher in Japan (wired_lain!) and the naked hardcover to Flipper friend Cecille.

My rating: Book 1, 5/5 stars; Book 2, 4/5 stars; Book 3, 5/5 stars. Series, 5/5 stars

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