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Bartimaeus 2: The Golem’s Eye

Corgi Books, 2004

A couple of years have passed since Nathaniel had summoned the djinni Bartimaeus to do his bidding. Since then, Nathaniel, now known by his new name John Mandrake, has moved up in the world. In the second book of the Bartimaeus series, he is apprentice to a new master, Jessica Whitwell, and working in the British Goverment’s Internal Affairs department, entrusted with the task of breaking down the Resistance.

At 14, there are those who resent Nathaniel’s rise and it gives them no little pleasure to see the scant success he is having with the Resistance. For those who have not read the first book, the Resistance is a group of commoners who are opposed to the magicians’ power and frequently stir up things by making trouble. Teenager Kitty is one of their ringleaders (she and Nathaniel—and Bartimaeus—had a run-in in the Amulet of Samarkand).

While Nathaniel is in the good books of Prime Minister Rupert Devereaux, he has powerful enemies, too—among them Henry Duvall, the police chief, and his assistant Jane Farrar. Nathaniel’s own boss, Julius Tallow, is no joy to work with—and that’s not just because of his odd complexion.

Even as Kitty and her pals continue to evade Nathaniel’s probes—and continue to mystify him with their ability to apparently resist or detect magical attacks—London is horrified by a series of violent break-ins. Nathaniel has to go to the enemy city of Prague to try to get to the bottom of it, and once more he summons the cheeky djinni Bartimaeus to help him.

The change in Nathaniel is interesting. What is perhaps most interesting is that it is quite unlikeable. The insecure but talented kid in the Amulet of Samarkand is increasingly resembling a ruthless, ambitious magician, as the irrepressible Bartimaeus never fails to remind him.

“You’re also completely friendless and alone… and all your colleagues fear you and will want to do you harm. And if you get too powerful, the Prime Minister will get paranoid and find and excuse to bump you off. But hey, we’ve all got troubles.”(p. 562)

As for the rest of Nathaniel:

His face… was curtained by a veritable mane of hair… his locks cascaded around his neck like a greasy black Niagra…. He looked as if some giant had grabbed his head and feet, yanked once, then gone off in disgust: his torso was narrow as a spindle, his arms and legs gangly and ill-fitting, his feet and hands quietly reminiscent of an ape’s…. [H]is choice of clothes: a swanky suit so tight, it looked like it was painted on, a ridiculous long black coat, dagger-sharp shoes and a flouncy handkerchief the size of a small tent hanging from his breast pocket. You could tell he thought he looked terribly dashing. There were some cast-iron insult opportunities here.(p.115)

For the first time in the series, we get a serious insight into Kitty Jones, the young woman whose life revolves around the Resistance and bringing about the downfall of the magicians. We also see the injustice in the lives of commoners, who are beneath the notice of the magicians apart from doing their dirty work. Kitty’s courage and her loyalty are touching; just as much as Nathaniel’s hunger for power is distasteful.

In the midst of all this, Bartimaeus is the same as ever—cheeky, cynical and extremely funny, full of himself, and very adept at talking himself in and out of trouble.

Where Amulet of Samarkand was slightly undone by its weak plot, The Golem’s Eye is pure magic till the end. Stroud is working on a much larger canvas here, intertwining “magic, adventure and political skulduggery”, as the blurb lets us know. The only drawback to this 570-page tale is that the author tends to go into deep, detailed descriptions of places. Even though Bartimaeus—whose bits are narrated in his very own imitable first-person style, alongwith entertaining footnotes—peppers his descriptions with a lot of wit, it can get tiresome when you want the story to move on.

But The Golem’s Eye throws up more than a few surprises and twists, leaving us hungry for the final instalment of the series.

RATING: 8/10

Other books in the series:
Bartimaeus 1: The Amulet of Samarkand
Bartimaeus 3: Ptolemy’s Gate