Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Golem's Eye Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Jonathan Stroud
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Bartimaeus Book Two
Pages: 562

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(Spoilers for the Amulet of Samarkand are below).

As the Amulet of Samarkand closed, I was left wondering how far Stroud would take Nathaniel’s admiration and support for the oppressive magicians.  In the Golem’s Eye I found out … pretty far.

Where the Amulet of Samarkand was a fairly straight forward good vs evil story, Golem’s Eye is complicated by the morality of its characters.  True, there were moral complications in the last book, but in Golem’s Eye the question isn’t who will win the good vs. evil battle, but rather who is good and who is evil?

I didn’t think Stroud would be able to surpass his first novel, but I was wrong. Golem’s Eye is certainly one of the best middle grade fantasy series’ out there. If the first book didn’t have you convinced, then the second one should.

Set in London two years after the events of the Amulet of Samarkand, Kitty Jones is still working for the resistance. As their founder, Mr. Pennyfeather, ages; the group begins to show signs of splitting. To rectify this, the leader of the Resistance prepares them for their most ambitious assault on the wizard government yet.

Nathaniel is now working for Internal Affairs in the magicians government.  He has the chancellor’s eye, but many enemies from within who wish to see him ruined.  A number of increasingly violent attacks by a powerful being begin to shake up London, and it’s Nathaniel’s job to track down the Resistance, who is believed to be the cause. As things go from bad to worse, Nathaniel prepares to, once again, summon Bartimaeus.

The Golem’s Eye gets a new narrator in Kitty Jones. She was only briefly mentioned in the previous book, but here in The Golem’s Eye she is the story’s centerpiece.  Kitty is a great narrator who provides a lot of sympathy for the mistreated commoners and a lot of hatred for the oppressive magicians.  Her back-story and her insights to the Resistance give us a glimpse into the group that hopes to end magician rule.

In the two years since we last saw Nathaniel, a lot has changed.  He is more embracing of the magicians and their tactics, and his ambition seems to know no bounds.  In many ways Nathaniel reminds me of a seriously corrupted Harry Potter, or a Harry Potter that would rather learn lots of magic, fight alongside Voldemort, and establish a nice comfy place at the top of society.  This is not to say Nathaniel has completely changed since the last book – there are plenty of scenes with the old Nathaniel – but the changes in his character are present from the beginning.

Bartimaeus was easily the best part about the last book, but unfortunately he doesn’t get as much page time in this sequel.  He makes his appearances count though. He’s as funny as ever, his observations are sharp, and his questions about the slave relationships djinni’s have with humans become increasingly deep.  His relationship grows more complicated with Nathaniel, as Bartimaeus witnesses his attempts to advance amongst the magician ranks.

In the beginning, besides the monster attacks, not a whole lot is different from the last book, and it appears the Golem’s Eye is heading down the road of – competent but not great sequel.  As the book heads into its third part, that changes, as the story rockets off into a nebula of moral ambiguity and bizarre action scenes.   From the third part on it was nearly impossible to put the book down.

The introduction of the new character Honorious, late in the book, deserves a special mention.  A lot of this characters actions may go over the head of younger readers. He switches between reciting insane (but sometimes very thoughtful) banter, and doing a number things that would make any adult squirm. All-in-all his cynical antics had me laughing out loud more often than not.  He has some of my favorite scenes in this series.

The Golem’s Eye has a much darker tone than its predecessor.  The good vs. evil story arc is present, much like it was in The Amulet of Samarkand, but unlike that book it’s a lot more difficult to distinguish good from evil. The Golem’s Eye may start like it’s a weaker installment of the Bartimaeus series, but by the end there is no doubt that it has surpassed book one in this trilogy.

Score: 9.5

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