Friday, June 29, 2007

Review: Ptolemy's Gate

Ptolemy's Gate, by Jonathan Stroud
9/10, a terrific conclusion to a wonderful trilogy

The counter to my argument against trilogies is that a good trilogy can pull off a more satisfying conclusion than a single novel on its own. Over three books, you have time to get to know and get invested in the characters, and if the story is told well, the payoff is that much richer for the more extended journey.

This story is told well. I could leave it at that, and in fact, I won't give too many details of the story itself, because it really is best discovered by the reader. I just want to highlight a few of the points that I liked.

Stroud's characters outshine his world-building as the jewel of this series. Nathaniel, Bartimaeus, and Kitty are the stars, but every one of the minor characters is given the same loving attention, with the result that the world feels real and complete. It's only upon reflection that you wonder about the Victorian-era feel with the modern technology, and wonder if Stroud might have done more to explain that demons took the place of technology, if that is indeed the case. But that is not really a flaw in the story so much as a texture of the world that wasn't necessary to include, only noticeable by its absence, and then only in retrospect. There is a great moment in this book when Nathanial and Bartimaeus are discussing whether one of their enemies lied to them, and Bartimaeus says, no, that's not his style. It's a great moment because the description is true to the character, and because Bartimaeus is the kind of djinn who notices and counts on these little traits of character. He understands others: people, spirits, and everyone in between. That's what makes him a survivor, despite the fact that his powers aren't quite what he would like us to believe they are.

That's also what makes him a great protagonist, because this series is really about people struggling to be different from what the world expects of them. Bartimaeus sees these qualities in the friends and enemies he has, and alone among them seems aware that there is a chance to rise above. We get a more thorough explanation of this rare insight as the story unfolds, not only in the present day, but back in ancient Egypt as well. Bartimaeus's service to Ptolemy is shown in a series of asides, the young noble contrasted with the youngsters Bartimaeus is dealing with in the modern era. What seems like a bit of interesting background becomes an essential component of the story, as Kitty and Nathaniel have to unlock Ptolemy's secret (with Bartimaeus's help, naturally) in order to defeat their enemies and, as is the case in all good books, complete their own individual journeys.

There's little I can say about this book specifically except that it works marvelously as a story, but even better as the capstone to one of the best YA series I've read. The Bartimaeus trilogy ranks up there with favorites like "The Dark Is Rising," Madeleine L'Engle's Murry family series, "A Series of Unfortunate Events," and, of course, Rowling's "Harry Potter" books. If you like YA fantasy, you have no excuse for not reading this trilogy. I am most indebted to those who pointed out this very fact to me and then bought me the trilogy to make sure it was remedied (which, coincidentally, is how I was led to read the "Harry Potter" books, too). Thanks to them--now I'm passing the recommendation on. Buy. Read.

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