The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Within the first few sentences my heart sank. Oh no, I thought, fanciful purple prose attempting to set a magical aura about the opening scene.
"GOTCHA!" shouted Stroud.
Well played, sir, well played.
One thing The Amulet of Samarkand does not do is take itself too seriously. That was a relief. I had approached this with trepidation. I'd heard good things, but I wasn't in the mood for some heavy going in a kiddies' fantasy world with evil baddies, precocious sprites, etc. No, instead what you get with this book is a relaxed tone, a great sense of humor and a worthwhile adventure.
Normally I don't go in for pseudo sci-fi or fantasy that includes that 4th wall breaker: the sarcastic narrator with a modern sensibility and a "sassy" tongue, but this one works. It's humor, mostly derived from Bartimaeus the wisecracking cynical djinni summoned to do a boy's will, reminded me of P.G. Wodehouse, while its snide self-satisfaction was reminiscent of Harry Harrison's work, especially his character "Slippery Jim" of Stainless Steel Rat. It's good, self-referrential stuff like that that doesn't disturb the suspension of disbelief, at least not for me.
The action follows the aforementioned snide demon-like djinni and a petulant boy…yeah, not a lot to choose from there in the main character line. I mean, I don't require a white knight to side with as my story's hero, but rooting for a coupla dicks can be tough! Yet Stroud makes it work. By the end you're pulling for these two to "save the day." The led up to that end by the way does drag a bit just before it breaks into the exciting climax. It's one of the book's few faults. Another would be how the pov flitters back and forth between the two main characters - at breakneck speed by the end - too much for my taste, but that's a minor, personal annoyance and doesn't really damage the story too much.
In the end, this is a 4 Star book that gets an extra star from me for pure enjoyment reasons!