PTOLOEMY’S GATE, Jonathan Stroud, 501pages,$Price Varies at Amazon.com
Poor Bartimaeus. There’s no rest for a demon, even a great djinni like him. Not when your master is the young John Mandrake (it’s too dangerous for demons to know his real name of Nathaniel) who’s in a little over his head as Information Minister. Mandrake’s been working Bartimaeus so hard that the demon’s essence is depleted. Little wonder then that we discover him at the beginning of the book flat on his back, hopelessly pinned beneath an overturned restroom. As if it weren’t bad enough, his oft times enemy the cyclops Ascobal is there just in time to stick a fork in his tender pride.
He’s had enough and means to have it out with this young upstart of a master. He’s putting his foot down, folding up his wings and he might even tell the demon world John Mandrakes birth name! Mandrake coaxes Bartimaeus into doing one last job for him, following a dangerous magician named Clive Jenkins through London. After giving all he has and nearly dying from it, he’s allowed to return to that “Other Place” where neither time nor distance exist and where an overworked demon can find rest at last. Ah sweet healing essence! But alas, he doesn’t stay for long.
Somehow commoners are now able to see demons just like the Magicians. And there are uprisings against the government everywhere. One commoner in particular, Mandrake’s all in one enemy and love interest Kitty, has been doing a little studying of her own. She want’s Bartimaeus and the demon world to rise up and fight along with her against the Magician class who have long subjugated commoner and demon alike. But thousands of years of mutual distrust have to be overcome first. Kitty has to risk her own safety to prove her trust to win his allegiance. In the end it is an allegiance that finds itself working in tandem with their mutual enemy, John Mandrake to win a battle against an evil that threatens the worlds of demons and humans alike.
Bartimaeus is not just a main character in this trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, he is a comedic vortex. He casts resentments, snobbery, and often wounded pride outward by way of cutting remarks and snide asides, while the reader is pulled toward the center of the real Bartimaeus who has searched over millennia for the nobility of the human spirit. The source of all his hurt is that no man has ever measured up to his old friend Ptolemy. His masters have always wanted power and riches without consideration for the greater good. Cynicism is a hard condition to live with for five thousand years, but in this case it makes for a good story and wonderful comedy.
Central to the tale is the influence that the characters have over each other. This should of course be true of all stories but sadly it often is not. Jonathan Stroud’s characters move together in an arc which takes them from the separating conditions of mutual distrust and contempt for one another, to the unifying condition (dare I say it) of love. Before anyone thinks how sappy that is, rest assured that Mr. Stroud’s muse has guided his key strokes through all the sticky traps that such a transition could pose. It was written as a children’s book of course and so there are times when a moment of realization can become a little more sentimental than an adult reader might hope. But such moments are few, and work perfectly for the younger reader. These books are such good reads that the adult reader won’t mind these tiny distractions.
Ptolemy’s Gate as well as the other books of the Bartimaeus Trilogy are perfect for ages thirteen and up, and by up we mean folks in their eighties. This book seems wrongly shelved in the children’s section. Maybe it should be placed in the humor section where the larger audience it deserves might find it more easily. The Yaroos! Team gives this book 4.5 stars out of 5 for exceptional comic writing that seems to have flowed freely and generously from somewhere deep in the writer’s being.