Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ptolemy's Gate Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Jonathan Stroud
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Bartimaeus Book Three
Pages: 501

Buy on Amazon!

(Spoilers for the previous two Bartimaeus books are below … also contains spoilers to the Harry Potter series).

As I was winding down Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows it looked like J.K. Rowling was going to do what needed to be done: she was going to kill Harry Potter … and the way she had set him up to be killed was perfect.  Then something got to Rowling: maybe it was the raging fan base, the publishers, the pressure … who knows, but whatever it was, it gave Rowling cold feet and the King’s Cross Station revival happened.

This ending spawned a new verb in my lexicon … she J.K. Rowling’d it.  Meaning she didn’t have the courage to do what needed to be done, she couldn’t kill Harry Potter – or for that matter – make her characters undergo the traumatic changes that the epic events they were centered around were calling for.

In Ptolemy’s Gate, the final installment in Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy, the author does NOT J.K. Rowling it.  Stroud’s courage gives readers an ending that is deserved, and personally made this not only the strongest individual volume of the series, but it concludes one of the greatest middle grade/young adult fantasy series’ that has been written.

Set in London three years after the concluding events of The Golem’s Eye, Nathaniel has fully embraced his magician persona John Mandrake.  Now one of the most powerful magicians in the world, and one of the most influential members of the government he has a lot to contend with.  The American rebellion is still on-going, and it’s not going well, while the commoners are developing more resistances and have become more hostile to their oppressive magician overlords.

Bartimaeus is in a weak state.  He is been forced to be on Earth for over two years straight by Nathaniel, and it has greatly weakened his essence.  Kitty Jones begins to research the past of Bartimaeus and how to summon him.  It is her goal to end the conflict between the spirits (demons) and humans.  As Kitty looks to put her plan to action, a new conspiracy begins to develop, one that will destroy humans forever.

In the Amulet of Samarkand we got the history of Nathaniel, in The Golem’s Eye we got the history of Kitty Jones, and finally in Ptolemy’s Gate we get the history of Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus’s history focuses on his relationship with Ptolemy … eventually explaining why the djinni still likes to take his form over 2,000 years later.  Their relationship unfolds in the first chapter of each of the five parts, which is set in Alexandria around 125 B.C.  This is the strongest, and most meaningful back story inserted into this trilogy, it ties everything together in a nice little bow.

Nathaniel’s turn to the darkside was a great twist in The Golem’s Eye, and in Ptolemy’s Gate he’s only gotten worse.  His treatment of the commoners and his djinn (of which he has many now) shows just how far he’s fallen.  His ideals lost, ambition consumes him.  Bartimaeus is weak, barely able to do anything that is magically impressive.  Watching two characters who were once so strong, especially together, end up in this state is depressing.

Kitty Jones has quickly become one of my favorite female fantasy protagonists.  She’s intelligent, resourceful, and when needed she can kick a butt or two.  She is a great role model for young women, and her idealist ideas about making the world a better place are inspiring. Kitty in many ways is divine, and Stroud takes advantage of this by giving her the most beautifully constructed scene in the whole series – something that matches her spirit.

I’m not going to get specific in order to avoid spoilers, but I have to say the way Stroud handles the relationship between Kitty and Nathaniel was handled extremely well.  Considering all the tropes in fantasy between the interactions of male and female characters, readers couldn’t have asked for more.  Ptolemy’s Gate is loaded with more sentiment than either of the previous two installments.  A maturity to the characters makes the reader feel like they’ve grown up along with them.  Everything they do, the reader cares about, and that is something that is rare.  The ramifications that Stroud has been building towards are fulfilled in a moving ending.

Score: 9.6

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