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Ptolemy's Gate (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 3) : Reviewed

Author:Jonathan Stroud
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Year of publication:2005

Sardonic musings of a demon summoned by a very young, but now, successful, wizard.

Book review: Part 1

Spoiler alert

I hate spoilers. However, I wish I had known more about the third volume in this trilogy before my daughter and I started reading the first one. (This would not have been possible when we started the first volume, because the third volume had not yet been released.)

That being said, I highly recommend all the books in the trilogy and I am glad that my daughter and I read them together.

This review is being presented in multiple parts; each part may provide additional information that, taken together, might give away some of the plot twists of Volume 3.

On the other hand, those helping highly sensitive readers select books might want to read through all the parts of this review before recommending books in this trilogy to them ...

Book review: Part 2

My 11 year old really loved these books. But they are a bit of a departure for her -- there's real murder and mayhem in them, which, until recently, she would not have tolerated.

As in previous volumes in the Trilogy, this book switches perspective between three very different characters:

  • Feisty Kitty is one of the commoners who are mistreated by the ruling elites and the demons they employ and are devastated by the economy and grief that result from the incessant wars the elites wage on foreign shores. She realizes that she must do something. But how much can one person do and can she live with the devastating consequences of her actions on her friends and colleagues?
  • Bartimaeus the sardonic djinni, who stands back and makes sarcastic comments about the other characters and the plot, even when he's right in the middle of it all, and
  • Nathaniel (John Mandrake) the gifted but annoying magician who has been co-opted by an Evil government because of his great intellectual abilities. Most of the time, the djinni has to obey the boy's commands, and a lot of the humor/sarcasm comes in when the djinni explains to the reader how morally compromised the boy is becoming. (And, to his credit, the djinni doesn't hesitate to tell the boy either, not that the boy listens most of the time.)
There is a complex relationship between these books and slavery too. The djinni is a slave, and even though he respects the good qualities of his boy master, he also hates having to obey his commands. Most of the time, the djinni makes this clear. But he's sometimes more supportive of his master than I think an average slave might actually be.

In Ptolemy's Gate, Bartimaeus also develops a touching relationship with Kitty and an awareness of kinship with the commoners whom most djinn scorn if they consider them at all. So much for cooperation between oppressed masses.


Book review: Part 3

My 11 year old daughter -- a very sensitive reader who has fallen in love with many of the characters in the Bartimaeus Trilogy and who "trusts" Bartimaeus' author implicitly -- and I read books to each other, usually alternating chapters. So, here we are, alternating chapters. My daughter reads Bartimaeus' words:
There are times when even a near omnipotent djinni knows to keep his mouth shut, and this was one of them. ... Trouble was, neither of them was in a mood to listen to my doubts. ... Pride has a part to play in it, and other emotions too. Neither wishes to fail; each redoubles their efforts to impress. Things get done -- but not always the right things, or not always the things expected. .. Farqual's phrase rang uneasily in my mind: He would welcome your attack and feed off it. And, call me pessimistic, but that struck me as a mite ominous. But it was too late to worry about that now.

I interrupt her and ask, gently as I can, "So what is the author telling us here?" My daughter pauses reluctantly. It's been an exciting, interesting, scary story so far, a story that persuasively argues that war can harm the invading country as well as the country that was invaded, that slavery compromises the humanity of the slave-owner as well as the slave, that torture is likewise devastating to both the torturer and the victim, and that a country in which the ruling classes blithely assume that what is in their interest is also in the interest of commoners who have no say is a country heading for destructive violence.

I persist -- "What is the author telling us right now?" She replies, "I HATE foreshadowing." She gets it, I'm pretty sure she does. I persist, "So what's being foreshadowed?" (It's almost always better when she gets the opportunity to face unpleasantness gradually.) She says, "Bad things are going to happen. But he CAN'T kill off -- ?"

Book review: Part 4

So, what are the options for an author who obviously is wanting to make a case for the horrors of war, horrors he thinks may perhaps be discounted by the young and foolish? If no one but the unnamed masses or unimportant minor characters in the book are affected by the violence, what does that say about war?

Other reviews: Ptolemy's Gate (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 3)
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