Two years after the events of The Amulet of Samarkand, the young magician Nathaniel, known as John Mandrake, has risen to a responsible position in the government’s ministry of internal affairs. His main responsibility is to find and stop the Resistance, a group of commoners who have been bedeviling the magical government of Britain for the last few years. This is the situation when The Golem’s Eye, the second book in Jonathan’s Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy opens.
Nathaniel hasn’t seen the djinn Bartimaeus since releasing him from his service at the end of The Amulet of Samarkand. As difficult as Bartimaeus could be, Nathaniel has not been able to find another servant as competent or clever. When a powerful magical force, possibly connected to the Resistance, starts going on rampages through London, it seems to be only a matter of time before Bartimaeus’s services will be required again.
I enjoyed The Amulet of Samarkand very much. The characters, the setting, and most especially Bartimaeus’s biting wit made the book a pleasure to listen to. I liked The Golem’s Eye even more. Stroud continues to follow the same pattern of alternating perspectives, with some chapters being Bartimaeus’s first-person account and others being a third-person account of what Nathaniel is up to. But this time, he adds a third character to be the focus of additional third-person chapters. And this character, Kitty, was a marvelous addition.
Kitty is a commoner who appeared a few times in The Amulet of Samarkand, and it is through her story that we get to see what life in this alternate version of London is like for its non-magical citizens. She also brings a sort of everywoman spunk and spirit to the tale that I appreciated. She’s smart and resourceful and interested in pursuing justice. Where Nathaniel is ambitious for himself, Kitty is ambitious for the people. Where Nathaniel is interested in power, Kitty is interested in fairness. They make nice complements to each other, even if their stories operate on parallel tracks most of the time.
By adding Kitty into the mix, Stroud expands the world of the series considerably. We get out of the magical world and into the world of the common people—and that world can’t help but be touched by magic. The story also steps out of London for a sojourn into Prague, where years earlier Gladstone had defeated the Czech magicians, making Britain the world’s magical superpower. (And I couldn’t help but smirk at how some of Nathaniel’s complaints about Prague’s small hotel rooms and old buildings echo things I’ve heard people say about London—how did becoming a magical superpower change the texture of the city?)
The world expansion allows Stroud to ask larger questions about the nature of power in society and the rise and fall of political figures and the governments in which they operate. Not all of those questions get answered—if they can be answered at all—and some are barely even touched on, leading me to think that Stroud is setting up for a conclusion that could alter the power balance between magicians and commoners, Britain and the world, and humans and magical creatures.
Like The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye includes some wonderful set pieces. There’s a riveting attack on the British Museum, a grave robbery in Westminster Abbey, a werewolf police force, and, my own favorite, an insane affrit imprisoned in a skeleton. Oh, and a golem. You can’t lose with a golem, can you? And you especially can’t lose when you have Bartimaeus’s amusing commentary about all these scenes. I’m excited to get right into the next book, Ptolemy’s Gate.