Technically, this book with all its labyrinthine plots, foreign travels (now I have a hankering to visit Prague), betrayal from within the highest ranks of the government – should be more fast-paced and more exciting than the previous book.
Sadly, I find my attention waning mid-chapter. Not that the narrative isn’t beautifully written, it still is; and the characters still witty and captivating – it just failed to measure up to the first book.
I have several thoughts as to what may have contributed to this:
a) The narrative is now written from three vantage points (whereas Book One only had Bartimaeus AND Nathaniel), with Kitty Jones prefiguring more and more in the story. Whereas in Book One she was depicted merely as a calculating (albeit, highly talented) thief with cold cruel eyes, she now has a face and a full-bodied texture in this book. However, the accounts written from Bartimaeus’ vantage (which I am always always looking forward to reading), are more sparse than ever. I find myself looking at the next few chapters in the hope that it would be written in Bartimaeus’ usual sardonic wit and derisive contempt directed towards commoners and magicians specifically, to little avail. Sadly, the chapters written from Nathaniel’s and Kitty Jones’ viewpoint did not mange to win over my unblinking and rapid page-turning fascination.
b) Book One was just too good.
c) Book Two is too stretched out, too long. With its 562 pages.
Yet despite this, I believe that it is a significant section in the trilogy since here, it is evident how Nathaniel is now much more swiftly being buried in the background while John Mandrake, the more overly-ambitious, zealous, and more polished politician takes his place. True, there are still niggling doubts and compunction evident in the young boy, who by the way, was awarded the position Minister of Internal Affairs in the end – but generally, his essence is corrupted more and more by his lust for power and his lonely attempts to protect himself, given the fact that he has attracted a lot of vicious enemies given his stature and his boundless talent. It doesn’t help that he couldn’t trust anyone, not even his master Jessica Whitwell, who took him under her wing when his first master died (see review for Book one for this).
Magicians here are depicted to be a disreputable, devious, untrustworthy lot. No wonder, Nathaniel is slowly becoming John Mandrake. No room for joy or bliss in this young boy’s life. Not even a hint of romance. The only person who would do anything to save his hide is in the person of the young girl (Kitty) whom he has viciously hunted since Book One. And Bartimaeus, a demon, his only friend. Whether he accepts it or not. Pathetic. Oh well, let’s see, what Book Three would be like.