Balancing humour with the elements of a thriller is a difficult task to carry off, but Jonathan Stroud does it with style in The Amulet of Samarkand. What's more, he does it without expletives or sexual content, so you can happily encourage your youngsters to read this story.
Set in England sometime in a near future, it depicts a society in which the rich and powerful are all magicians. Politicians, in particular, are shown to be ruthless, manipulative, selfish and totally lacking in conscience; much, in fact, the way they appear to most of us in reality. The author uses his considerable writing gifts to mock the powerful and portray them as people who use their positions to get what they want without reference to the general public, who are treated with contempt by this society.
The main protagonists ought to be unsympathetic characters, but the reader warms to both the young, inexperienced, clever and vengeful apprentice magician, Nathaniel, and the wicked, conniving, powerful and devious demon, Bartimaeus, he conjours from 'the Other Place' to help him achieve his ambitions. Told from the first person, by Bartimaeus and the third person viewpoint of Nathaniel, the story develops plenty of impetus as the writer takes us into a world of ambition, greed, danger and treachery.
The humour is mostly of the type that brings a smile or a nod of admiration, but there's also the occasional belly laugh. And, I suspect, younger readers, particularly teenage boys will find plenty that will make them laugh out loud here.
It's a well-written story, with plenty of twists and turns and building drama leading to the inevitable denouement, which provides a satisfying and action-packed climax. The characters, even the minor roles, are written with an attention that allows the reader to form empathy and develop many other emotional responses appropriate to the different personalities.
I thoroughly enjoyed this work of great imagination and I applaud the author's method of bringing reader's attention to the depth of corruption in politics without preaching or ramming messages down throats. Humour is undoubtedly the most effective tool in the satirist's armoury and Jonathan Stroud uses it to great effect.
I have no hesitation in recommending this damn good read to all and sundry.