50 pages 1 hour read

Jonathan Stroud

The Amulet of Samarkand

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2003

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Summary and Study Guide


The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud is the first installment in the Bartimaeus trilogy, a series of young adult novels of alternate history, fantasy, and magic. The novel details the initial encounter between Nathaniel, a young and ambitious apprentice magician, and Bartimaeus, a 5,010-year-old spirit called a djinni, as they are grudgingly forced to work together to thwart a conspiracy to overthrow the British government. Published in 2003, the book received numerous accolades, including a Booklist starred review (2003), the American Library Association Notable Book Award (2004), and being named one of the Booklist Top 10 Fantasy Books for Youth (2004). The Bartimaeus series also received the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards. A former editor, Stroud has published many works of children and young adult fiction since the 1990s. Fusing lighthearted banter with deeper moral dilemmas, The Amulet of Samarkand challenges assumptions of power and the sanctity of bloody histories and underscores the need for bridging social and political divides.

This guide refers to the 2011 e-book edition published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Plot Summary

When Bartimaeus of Uruk, a 5,010-year-old spirit called a djinni, is summoned by and bound to a 12-year-old apprentice magician, he is displeased and unimpressed. Nathaniel, his new master, directs Bartimaeus to steal a powerful magical protection device called the Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a master magician. With a bit of luck and courage, Bartimaeus manages to retrieve the Amulet and narrowly escape with his prize.

As Bartimaeus waits for the boy’s next summons, he is discovered by a group of non-magic commoner children who try to steal the Amulet from him. They are no match for him and his powers of transformation; as a djinni, he has no physical form of his own but can shapeshift at will. At dawn, Nathaniel calls for him.

When Nathaniel was younger, his non-magical parents sold him to the government, which pays parents to give up their magical children so that they can train to join an elite class of magicians. Arthur Underwood, the man Nathaniel is apprenticed to, is a mediocre magician; though Nathaniel is a voracious learner, Arthur is more invested in finding out about the Resistance, an elusive group that steals magical artifacts, than he is in teaching his young charge. Only Arthur’s wife, Martha, seems to care for Nathaniel. Near Nathaniel’s 11th birthday, Simon and his peers came to visit. When Nathaniel bested him in a test of knowledge, Simon publicly humiliated the boy and left him unconscious. Driven by his thirst for revenge, Nathaniel delved further into his studies without Arthur’s knowledge, spied on Simon, and concocted the plan to steal his ill-gotten Amulet.

Now, Nathaniel asks Bartimaeus to hide the Amulet in Arthur’s study with his other magical artifacts. Bound to obey, Bartimaeus does as he is told, but while he waits to be dismissed, he learns that Nathaniel is the boy’s birth name—this knowledge gives him power to defend himself against some of Nathaniel’s spells. Panicked, Nathaniel casts a spell on Bartimaeus that will trap him at the bottom of a river should Nathaniel not be around to cancel the spell in a month’s time.

While Nathaniel attends a state address with Arthur and Martha at Parliament, Bartimaeus must spy on Simon to learn more about the seemingly illegal circumstances by which he acquired the Amulet. He follows a lead to a store for magic artifacts. There, he disguises himself and convinces a spirit to tell him about the Amulet. Bartimaeus learns that it had been in the government’s possession for decades until its guardian was suddenly murdered a few months ago. Just as the spirit is about to tell him of its power, Bartimaeus is discovered, captured, and sent to the Tower of London for interrogation.

Nathaniel, meanwhile, is loitering in the assembly when he sees Simon for the first time since the incident. He eavesdrops on his conversation and is pleased to find that the Amulet’s theft has made him desperate, as he needs it in three days for a planned conference at Heddleham Hall. Just as the prime minister is finishing his speech, a figure bursts into the assembly and unleashes an elemental sphere, a magical object that contains all four elements. Chaos ensues, and all are shuffled home, where Nathaniel learns about a “rogue djinni” who has recently been captured. Fearing the worst, he tries to summon Bartimaeus, to no avail. Then, Arthur discovers that he’s been performing summoning without his supervision. Furious, Arthur goes to the Tower to investigate the rogue djinni for himself.

Confined in a Mournful Orb spell, Bartimaeus is questioned but knows better than to be honest. Simon’s djinn come to help him escape. They make it to the outskirts of London, where he manages to run away back to Nathaniel. Unbeknownst to him, Simon’s djinn follow, and soon, Simon arrives at the Underwoods’ house. He accuses Arthur of stealing his Amulet, but Nathaniel admits the truth. Simon sets one of his djinn, Jabor, on them and kills both Arthur and Martha in a fire while Bartimaeus drags Nathaniel away from the carnage.

On the run from the authorities, Nathaniel and Bartimaeus hole up in an abandoned library. Devastated by Martha’s death, Nathaniel wants justice and asks Bartimaeus to remain with him until he sees the plan through. While Bartimaeus is away to determine the best route to Heddleham Hall, Nathaniel goes to a market to buy the government newspaper, and two boys corner him. The boys demand his scrying glass, a crude magical tool. As they forcibly take it from him, he follows them and finds them handing it over to a girl, Kitty. When he is discovered, he tries to run away, but he knocks himself unconscious.

When he next wakes, he returns, ashamed, to the library, where Bartimaeus is ready to direct him to Heddleham Hall. Disguised as grocers, they enter the grounds, and while Nathaniel infiltrates the estate, Bartimaeus looks for a different entry point. He finds a heavily guarded room, which he discovers is to keep people in and not out. When he sees a summoning horn in the room, he suspects that Simon is planning to kill the conference attendees. Nathaniel, meanwhile, sees Simon and follows him to a secluded area of the estate. Simon knows he is being followed, and he delivers Nathaniel to his former master, Schyler, for him to deal with. Nathaniel fights Schyler, unexpectedly killing the man. Bartimaeus confronts the grocers they impersonated and a hired mercenary when he sees them hurrying to the estate to raise the alarm. After the grocers run away and he pins the mercenary under a statue, Bartimaeus is summoned by Nathaniel. Together, they realize that Simon plans to summon a powerful creature to kill all the government magicians gathered at the conference—including the prime minister.

Nathaniel and Bartimaeus try to warn them but are caught in a spell that renders them voiceless. It is only when Simon summons Ramuthra, a creature who can bend physical space, that they escape the spell. They battle against Simon, and while Bartimaeus fights Jabor, Nathaniel takes the Amulet from Simon, leaving him as vulnerable as everyone else in the room to Ramuthra. The creature ingests Simon, and using the summoning horn and an incantation, Nathaniel dispels Ramuthra and returns the Amulet to the unharmed prime minister.

Soon after, Nathaniel is cleared of all charges in Arthur’s and Martha’s murders and given a new master. Though he is called a hero, no one knows of his deeds outside of those who attended the conference. Still, Nathaniel is elated and believes that he is destined for greatness. Though Bartimaeus still knows his birth name, Nathaniel honors his promise and breaks the bond between them to return Bartimaeus to his freedom.