The Amulet of Samarkand: A Bartimaeus graphic novel reviewed

Adapted by Jonathan Stroud and Andrew Donkin. Art by Lee Sullivan. Colour by Nicolas Chapuis.

Fantasy Book Review Young-Adult Book of the Month, April 2011

Nathaniel, a young magician’s apprentice, has revenge on his mind. Desperate to defy his master and take on more challenging spells, he secretly summons the 5,000-year-old djinni, Bartimaeus. But Bartimaeus’s task is not an easy one – he must steal the powerful Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a master magician of unrivalled ruthlessness and ambition.

It is very difficult to review this graphic novel without constantly referring back to the original book. I am a big fan of the trilogy (The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye and Ptolemy’s Gate) and count it amongst the best fantasy trilogies available so I will get the first question I asked myself out of the way early and quickly… Is this graphic novel as good as the book upon which it is based? Not quite, but almost. And for the remainder of the review I will try to keep comparisons to a minimum and treat it as the separate medium that it is.

The Amulet of Samarkand: A Bartimaeus graphic novel cover

The first thing you notice upon picking up this graphic novel is the artwork. The work by Lee Sullivan (Transformers, Judge Dredd and Doctor Who) is stunning, detailed and spookily close to my own imaginings of the characters and locations. If you add to this the vibrant colours of Nicolas Chapuis (who has previously worked on the graphic novel adaptation of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time) you are presented with a graphic novel that is beautiful to look upon. In fact, excellency marks all aspects of this graphic novel, from the story to the art, colour and lettering it is obvious that those involved in their roles are amongst the very best at their craft.

The book is of course reduced (496 to 144 pages) and there is much to to this graphic novel that is cinematic with a screenplay feel. The most important thing for me was that the relationship between Nathanial and Bartimaeus was able to build as it had in the book and that the humour, such a vital ingredient in the trilogies success, was successfully transferred across. This task fell to Andrew Donkin, the co-writer of the successful graphic novel adaptations of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl and Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident. Donkin achieved  the transfer with great aplomb and many of the poignant and laugh-out-loud moments are thankfully still to be found.

This graphic novel should appeal on all seven planes, from those familiar with the books to complete newbies. Where I think this may well come up trumps is with a reluctant reader – a youngster confronted with a graphic novel will react differently to one with a 500-page book of words shoved under their nose. It would be nice to think that said reluctant reader, upon enjoying the graphic novel, felt compelled to give the book a try and thereby be rewarded with an even fuller story. I believe that this was the case with the Artemis Fowl graphic novels, hopefully the same will happen here.

Everybody involved in this book has done a marvellous job and should be congratulated. That this is currently available on Amazon for just over a fiver offers great value for money considering the work that has gone into creating it. Highly recommended.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy (The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye and Ptolemy’s Gate), and the prequel Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon have now sold more than six million copies around the world.

Jonathan Stroud’s The Amulet of Samarkand read by Steven Pacey

The Amulet of Samarkand audio-book cover.I had not previously come across the name of Steven Pacey but now, after listening to him read Jonathan Stroud’s The Amulet of Samarkand, he has now been added to my list of favourite narrators, alongside Frank Muller, Roy Dotrice, Simon Prebble, Sean Barrett and George Guidall.

Pacey narrates the first book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy with perfect pace, using an assortment of excellent and appropriate accents. But most importantly of all he manages to replicate the delightful sense of humour – which is a Stroud trademark – into the narrative.

Pacey does of course have the perfect material on which to use his skills. When the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus is summoned by Nathaniel, a young magician’s apprentice, he expects to have to do nothing more taxing than a little levitation or a few simple illusions. But Nathaniel is a precocious talent and has something rather more dangerous in mind: revenge. Against his will, Bartimaeus is packed off to steal the powerful Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a master magician of unrivalled ruthlessness and ambition. Before long, both djinni and apprentice are caught up in a terrifying flood of magical intrigue, murder and rebellion. The Amulet of Samarkand is an absorbing tale of magicians and demons, a Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell for the younger reader.

This is one of the very best fantasy audio-books. The book was written by a highly skilled author and now read by a highly skilled actor. Bartimaeus is one of the finest additions to the fantasy genre in recent years and Pacey’s portrayal of the irascible djinni is perfect. This audio-book is very highly recommended, one of the very best.

9/10

The Amulet of Samarkand (abridged) by Jonathan Stroud
Narrated by Steven Pacey
Length: 9 hours, 33 minutes
Publisher: Random House AudioBooks