Books Speculative Fiction, Scifi, Fantasy Young Adult (YA) Literature

The Bartimaeus Trilogy: Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud

“Isn't it hard to maintain an argument when you can read each other's mind?”

Myra here.

This book is ambitious in the sense that it attempts to discuss the esoteric concepts of space-time-dimension continuums with a lot of actual historical facts thrown hodgepodge into the mix – yet it manages to do that with its usual attempts at satire and comical derision, thanks to the endearing Bartimaeus (I am certain he didn’t mean to be that way, which makes him all the more delightful).

Nathaniel, one of the human protagonists in the narrative, has gradually begun to shed the Mr. John Mandrake in him, in his reflective attempts to take responsibility for his many foibles as a magician and as a human being. The fact that he could not seem to let go of Bartimaeus, the only one who still has a scathing tongue to throw at him despite his highly influential stature in the government (unlike the other demons who kowtow to Mandrake), and still calls him an idiot to his face – is a testament to his all-too-surprising level of sentimentality (despite his continual attempts to show otherwise) and the innate child in him who wants to grin sheepishly at every loving chastisement.

In this book, Bartimaeus is essentially the predominant figure. The fact that he frequently takes on the figure of Ptolemy when summoned is given more meaning. The reader is enlightened by the possible bonds that could exist between human and demon – when they begin to view each other without the labels imposed on them by society and to perceive each other as equals. And as friends, even – rather than master and slave. Bartimaeus talks about a human actually traveling to The Other Place (it appears to me that this place is spoken with a great deal of reverence and awe) where everything is fluid and converges into the other – as opposed to when one is on the physical plane and one has to take on a specific form with clearly defined boundaries that would distinguish one from the other. Bartimaeus attempts to explain to Kitty (yes she actually is the love interest of Nathaniel, apparently as was shown in this third book) that boundaries do not exist in the Other place:

“It’s not actually me, any more than that’s you. In fact, you’re as much part of this form as I am. There aren’t any divisions in The Other Place.”

Bartimaeus talks about the importance of essence fluidly connecting into another in The Other Place – such that one is all, and all is one – spirits are free and permeable and basically twirls in kaleidoscopic beauty intermingling with forgotten fragments of a dream or bits and pieces of a long-lost memory.

Of course the trilogy ends with an extremely powerful demon wreaking havoc to the entire London area (and quite possibly the world, if Nathaniel did not die in the end, yes, he died, spoiler!) through plain old possession. Nathaniel has shown his integrity during the latter part of the story when he decided to save Bartimaeus and sacrificed himself to save the people he loves the most. Truth be told, the last part leaves much to be desired. There seems to be quite a few loose ends, which I believe is precisely what Stroud intended. In the event, that he so desires to create a fourth book, perhaps.

I love this one better than the second one. But the first book remains the best for me, regardless.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy: Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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