The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus Trilogy #1) by Jonathan Stroud

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Publisher: Hyperion Books
Release Date: 2003
Image Source: link
Other Titles in Series: The Golem’s Eye (#2), Ptolemy’s Gate (#3), The Ring of Solomon (Prequel)

Rating:
Characters- 20/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 20/20
Originality-19/20
Recommendation- 19/20
Overall- 97/100 or A

Synopsis: Nathaniel is eleven years old and a magician’s apprentice, learning the traditional arts of magic. All is well until he has a life-changing encounter with Simon Lovelace, a magician of unrivaled ruthlessness and ambition. When Lovelace brutally humiliates Nathaniel in public, Nathaniel decides to speed up his education, teaching himself spells way beyond his years. With revenge on his mind, he masters one of the toughest spells of all and summons Bartimaeus, a five-thousand-year-old djinni, to assist him. But summoning Bartimaeus and controlling him are two different things entirely, and when Nathaniel sends the djinni out to steal Lovelace’s greatest treasure, the Amulet of Samarkand, he finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.

Review: The Amulet of Samarkand is a quick, witty, and fast-paced fantasy. It is the first of the Bartimaeus trilogy, and in my opinion quite an eye-opener. I enjoyed this novel greatly, the wide palette of characters was quite striking. I particular enjoyed the thoughts of the lead character, a sarcastic and often narcissistic djinni. They were cleverly expressed in footnotes, which added to the character’s. . . finesse I should say.

Jonathan Stroud has created a very interesting fantasy world. In fact, I would classify it as an alternative history. Taking place in London, the seat of the modern-day British Empire, the plot revolves around Nathaniel, a preteen magician. London is riddled with such magicians, who comprise the ruling class of society. They control every aspect of the government, and summon powerful spiritual entities to keep citizens in check. Nathaniel is apprenticed to a fairly low-ranking magician, who he often holds in contempt. His ambitions surpass anything his master has achieved.

A pretty good book in general, The Amulet of Samarkand is sure to give anyone a laugh. I myself enjoyed it greatly. There is much to uncover about the mysterious Bartimaeus, which I’m sure readers will do in later novels. I believe, after I’ve reviewed the entire series, I might send Stroud an email requesting an interview. I hadn’t planned on requesting authors directly, but I’m very eager to have a conversation with this one.

Overall Grade: A
The Amulet of Samarkand is a good book for those who like sarcasm and often narcissistic characters. A fairly fast read, it’s sure to appeal to most people and give anyone a chuckle. Bartimaeus is a particular interesting character, one I believe will develop over the course of the series. Jonathan Stroud is a great writer, and I hope he will continue being so into the future.

Stroud, Jonathan. (2003) The Amulet of Samarkand. United States: Hyperion Books.    

Inheritance (Inheritance Cycle #4) by Christopher Paolini

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date: 2011
Image Source: link
Other Titles in Series: Eragon (#1), Eldest (#2), Brisingr (#3)

Rating:
Characters- 20/20
Plot- 20/20
Writing- 20/20
Originality- 20/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 100/100 or A+

Synopsis: It began with Eragon. . . . It ends with Inheritance.
Not so very long ago, Eragon—Shadeslayer, Dragon Rider—was nothing more than a poor farm boy, and his dragon, Saphira, only a blue stone in the forest. Now, the fate of an entire civilization rests on their shoulders.

Long months of training and battle have brought victories and hope, but they have also brought heartbreaking loss. And still, the real battle lies ahead: they must confront Galbatorix. When they do, they will have to be strong enough to defeat him. And if they cannot, no one can. There will be no second chance.

The Rider and his dragon have come farther than anyone dared to imagine. But can they topple the evil king and restore justice to Alagaesia? And if so, at what cost?

This is the spellbinding conclusion to Christopher Paolini’s worldwide bestselling Inheritance cycle.


Review: Reading the Inheritance Cycle has been a journey like no other. Truly a phenomenal and capturing series, it has forever established a spot in my heart. I will never lose the memories of thoughts I garnered from my first time reading it. Inheritance, the final chapter of the series, was a bittersweet conclusion. Truly one of the best books I’ve ever read, the ending saddened me. I was terribly reluctant to finish it. I feel as if a dear friend has been lost. . .

Despite my evident nostalgia, the tremendous positive feelings I experienced during this recent read evaporate any melancholy that could be lingering. Inheritance brought about the excitement and stay-up-late-to-read nights that any reader worships and yearns for. Indeed, you may be wondering why I rated this book so perfectly. The same happened with Brisingr—my honest reviewing skills have fallen short. I could not and will not find anything wrong with this novel. I love it so.

One of the main things that really struck me about Inheritance was Eragon and Saphira’s round-world revelation. When the trio (Glaedr included) was traveling to Vroengard, the home of the ancient riders, they ran into a storm of colossal proportions. A description from page 471:

“Since dawn, the clouds had only increased in size, and up close, they were even more intimidating. Near the bottom, they were dark and purplish, with curtains of driving rain connecting the storm with the sea like a gauzy umbilical cord. Higher up, the clouds were the color of tarnished silver, while the very tops were a pure, blinding white and appeared as solid as the flanks of Tronjheim. To the north, over the center of the storm, the clouds had formed a gigantic flat-topped anvil that loomed over all else, as if the gods themselves intended to forge some strange and terrible instrument.”

The storm continues to give Saphira problems. The wind continually tries to push her off course, while the rain is blinding and threatens to completely diminish what remains of visibility. Forced to rise above the storm, Eragon uses energy from Glaedr’s eldunari to enact a self-preserving spell—one that preserves body heat and provides a stable atmosphere to breathe.

As they rise to a seemingly impossible elevation, the clouds thin and stars begin to appear. Eragon is enamored by the sheer beauty and colors of the twinkling lights. But even more amazing, as he finally lowers his gaze to the horizon, Eragon notices something unusual. Instead of the sky and sea meeting in a straight line—as they should—the juncture between them curved, like the edge of a huge circle.

“‘The world is round,’ he whispered. ‘The sky is hollow and the world is round.'”

This revelation was momentous, a true milestone in the character development of both Eragon and Saphira. Such illumination can only result in a drastic change of mind-frame. Throughout the remainder of the novel, readers should note the effects this had on the actions and thoughts of both, especially in the effort of finding their true names.

The paths of both Saphira and Eragon to finding their true names was another momentous event in Inheritance. Much introspection was put into the effort as they both struggled to uncover their aspects, even flaws. It was a joyous event when Saphira finally found hers, yet dampened by Eragon’s slight jealousy. Out of frustration from lack of insight, he decides to go for a walk.

Eragon is away for the remainder of the night. After clearing a rubble strewn courtyard in the ruins of Doru Araeba (the fallen city of the riders) he perches atop a stone pillar, simply ruminating. His ruminations lead him on an inner journey of self-reflection.

“Then, as the first rays of dawn brightened the eastern sky over the ancient island of Vroengard, where the Riders and dragons had once lived, he thought of a name—a name such as he had not thought of before—and as he did, a sense of certainty came over him.”

“. . . And then he gasped, and he found himself both laughing and crying—laughing that he had succeeded and for the sheer joy of comprehension; crying because all his failings, all the mistakes he had made, were now obvious to him, and he no longer had any delusions to comfort himself with.”

“‘I am not who I was,’ he whispered, gripping the edges of the column, ‘but I know who I am.'”

This is the ultimate personal enlightenment; finding who you truly are. All of your flaws, your mistakes, become evident when you truly realize your identity. After reading this, I wondered if it could happen in real life, an illumination of the highest. It is true that anything is possible.

All in all, reading Inheritance was a profound spiritual experience. Just as Eragon endeavored to find his true name, I delved into a deep state of introspection, finding comparisons in my own life to Eragon’s revelations. I gained much from this novel, probably the most I’ve ever received from fantasy. Realizations into the true nature of freedom, justified leadership, and fear were only a few. The greatest and most profound would have to be a new outlook of self. I understand now, that we are always changing. Our identity does not remain fixed. Actions and decisions of the past determine who we are now. To me, this is sacred knowledge. Who we want to be in the future can only arise by working on our actions now, at this very moment.

Overall Grade: A+ 
A truly remarkable conclusion to Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, Inheritance proves to a be more than any reader bargained for. Not that it’s a bad thing. A thrilling, heart-grasping, and rich fantasy, Inheritance combines a fight for freedom and marvelous revelations of the self. Readers will enjoy the immense character development that took place in Eragon and his comrades. Indeed, finishing this series, understanding that it is finally over, may be a more than sad event for many.

     

Paolini, Christopher. (2011) Inheritance. United States: Alfred A. Knopf.

Interview with L.M. Aldrich

Author: L.M. Aldrich
Published works: Legends of the Light Bearer: The story left untold

I would like to express my gratitude toward L.M. Aldrich for this enlightening interview. I am honored to have met her and been able to support her publication of Legends. Indeed, our acquaintanceship has evolved into a friendship, spurred mainly by our contact through email. I cannot begin to explain the inspiration and understanding I have received from L.M. We have much in common, but where I can only see one side of the coin, she is bold enough to go all the way. I have made a vow to help spread her wisdom to any interested ears. So please, take to the heart what she had courageously expressed.   

Ty: If Legends of the Light Bearer became a bestseller, how do you think it would be received?

L.M: With passion, both positive and negative.  I don’t think it’s a book that many will find ho-hum. Though I am certainly not the first to challenge conventional thinking, some may see Legends as a step too far.  But as a perceptive reviewer recently noted, this book should be read with the heart, not the mind.

Ty: I know that spirituality has been a great driving force in your life. Do you believe it has the potential to change the world as well? Does faith alone take us all the way or should we strive to uncover the truth about what we know nothing about?

L.M: I try not to use the word belief, because like faith and free will, belief is a risky business if you’ve got it all wrong.  I have met people of faith who don’t adhere to a particular dogma, but simply walk in goodness.  They exude such kindness and tolerance, such purity and peace, you just want them to hold you.  To me, that is spirituality; that is wisdom.  But blind faith to a doctrine or ideology is different.  It is not only unworkable in a complex society, it is dangerous, and too often engenders hate.  Nazi Germany is just one example.  We come into this world wondering who we are and why we’re here, and then we leave it to others to tell us.  That maybe one reason we have continued to make the same mistakes, throughout human history.  So, if we do nothing else, if it is our only reason for being, I think we should absolutely pursue the truth, until we all find a way to walk in the world without destroying it or ourselves.

Ty: In your opinion what is the true, inherent nature of man? Are we greedy and sinful, unable to change, or can there ever be a true salvation?

L.M: Well, Legends suggests that we are all misbegotten, which would explain a lot.  But I am hopeful that we are merely lost.  I have experienced the paranormal since childhood, and what it has shown me is that we are not our bodies.  I’ve heard psychics refer to their ability as a gift, but I would say that the paranormal is our birthright.  It is a manifestation of who we really are—spirit.  Ghosts, astral travel, precognition, bi-location and a whole host of others tell us there is something more than this physical world, something beyond the laws of nature.  With bi-location, for instance, in an instant, your consciousness is transported thousands of miles, and it could be any distance, because you travel faster than the speed of light, which physics is just beginning to show is a real possibility.  So, if we were created in the image of God, I would say that the image of God is spirit.  Though our bodies may do stupid, awful things, inside of us our spirit is divine.  And from the moment we truly understand that and begin to live it, we save ourselves.  Maybe God is waiting for us to find Him.

Ty: Extraterrestrials seem to be an important aspect of your book. If indeed, intelligent alien beings exist, should this be a humbling thought, or an empowering one? How do you you believe humanity would react to the undeniable evidence that this was indeed the case?

L.M: I have no idea how humanity will react, but I would anticipate both humbled in the knowledge that there is so much more to our story than we ever imagined, and empowered by the realization that we are so much more than we ever imagined.  But most of all, I hope we keep in mind that they are us.  If God is spirit, and spirit gives life to all things, then we are all the same, whether we reside in human bodies or alien.  So we should not, we cannot relinquish our will to them out of either fear or awe.

Ty: Do you think our government is being completely honest with its citizens? What could they possibly be hiding from us?

L.M: Of course not!  They lie about everything.  In all of human history, no political, religious or financial institution has ever been completely honest.  They inevitably devolve into cabals, with allegiance to self-interest, sustained by conspiracies.  Right now, we are again standing on a precipice, because of all the lies and abuse of power.  Democracy is perhaps the most enlightened vision of all time, but democracy was not meant to be a fiefdom, and slave labor cannot keep capitalism afloat.  Like Rome, history is replete with the rise and fall of great civilizations, a never-ending story with one main character: greed, whether for wealth or power.  At the end of every calamity, the survivors enjoy a brief moment of hope, and a collective will to overcome and prosper.  Then, predictably, a few rise to the top, and the cycle begins again.  Greed is a mental illness, no different than drug addiction.  The afflicted will sacrifice family, friends and country for the next fix.  And when that is not enough, they want to rule the world.  However, in a democracy, it is not all their fault—we the people need to pay more attention.  I for one am grateful for the 99%’ers.
On the other hand, if you’re asking me if our government is being honest with us about ET’s, of course not!  For me there are only two possibilities, neither of which is very comforting.  If the technology is ours, it would mean that at least since the 40s, our military, or a secret branch of our military, has had enough wealth, power and autonomy to work outside all branches of government, including the Executive branch, except for perhaps Truman and Bush Senior.  But to what end? The technology was futuristic, even in the 40s, and what they have now is mindboggling.  The only other possibility is aliens, although I don’t happen to think they are extraterrestrial.  If both possibilities are true, which I have a hunch they are, then why the truth remains hidden should be of paramount concern to all of us.

Ty: Is humanity becoming closer to God, or are we a doomed society that is deviating away from our spiritual force? Is their hope?

L.M: We cannot be apart from God, if we are a part of God.  We can deny, we can ignore, we can chose not to care, but one day, we will be forced to face the truth.  People who have a near-death experience are forever changed, because they actually experience who we really are.  And when they try to describe the experience, they use only one word: love.  When you are standing in the light, you realize that every cell, every molecule in your spiritual body is made of this purity, this clarity, this loving energy that provides structure to consciousness, and at the same time, is connected to everything there is.  The feeling of belonging and acceptance is indescribable—the peace of it, the infinity of it, the absoluteness of it.  You are part of everything and everyone, and it is all love.  It is not a love directed at you.  It is not a love you give.  You are the love.  You are the love.  There is a feeling of promise, as though this experience is just a glimpse of things to come, and you understand with every fiber of your being that if there is a purpose to our time on earth, it is to bring that love into this world.
I have had a similar experience, and I was not dead or dying, I was merely praying.  I prayed for one thing, understanding, and then I remained silent, and waited.  I don’t recall if it took days or weeks, but one night it simply happened: the tunnel, the light, and with it, understanding.  Have you ever had a bubble of joy, a moment of such intense delight, you felt that every single thing was exactly as it should be? Well, that is what it feels like, but it is a bubble of joy you do not have to covet, because you know it is eternally yours; it is your natural state of being, forever.  All I can say is: the human word, love, cannot contain the magnitude of meaning that comes from this experience, and if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
There are also those who find themselves in hell, but it appears to be self-imposed, when they realize how far they’ve strayed, not from God, but from the perfection of who they really are.  The contrast is so intense that even the most insignificant sin seems a chasm.  It is painful to realize that you have sacrificed so much for so little.  It also appears that your stay in hell is up to you.  Forgiving yourself must come first, and that is not as easy at might sound.
In the Gnostic Scriptures, Jesus says that God is in you and all around you—God is everything there is.  When we strip away these physical shells, we are standing in the kingdom of heaven.  When you think of it that way, it is difficult not to see us here on earth as children, fighting over toys and who’s the boss of me.  It would be comical if it didn’t produce so much suffering.  There is now enough wealth and technology to ensure a comfortable life for everyone, and yet versions of commercials I saw as a child are still running: starving babies sitting in the hot Sahara sand.  And there is the ever-present threat of a nuclear holocaust.  But to answer your question, there is always hope, because even if we destroy ourselves, again, for better or worse, we are everlasting.  I just wish we would try harder to get it right this time.  Earth is a miracle, our existence on it is a miracle, and yet we treat both like yesterday’s trash.  Heaven may be our natural state of being, but I do not think there is a hell, only shame and sorrow for abusing such a gift. 

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If you enjoyed this illuminating interview, you may be interested in my review of Legends of the Light Bearer. If so, you can find it here.
Crisp, Ty (2012) Interview with L.M. Aldrich