In Review: The Amulet of Samarkand

By Jonathan Stroud and Andrew Donkin (script), Lee Sullivan (art) and Nicolas Chapuis (colour)
Publisher: Corgi Children’s (UK, paperback) Disney Hyperion (US, hardcover)
Out: Now (hardcover) 3rd February 2011 (paperback)

The Book: The first volume in the brilliant, bestselling Bartimaeus sequence, now adapted into a stunning graphic novel format – this is Bartimaeus as you’ve never seen him before!

Nathaniel, a young magician’s apprentice, has revenge on his mind. Desperate to defy his master and take on more challenging spells, he secretly summons the 5000-year-old djinni, Bartimaeus. But Bartimaeus’s task is not an easy one – he must steal the powerful Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a master magician of unrivalled ruthlessness and ambition. Before long, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel are caught up in a terrifying flood of intrigue, rebellion and murder.

Set in modern-day London controlled by magicians, this brilliant adaptation of Jonathan Stroud’s bestselling novel will enthral readers of all ages.

The Review: I had better declare my allegiances before you continue reading this review: I worked with script writer Andrew Donkin while editing Doctor Who Magazine – I believe his co-authored story, Train Flight, was one of his first professional commissions. Lee Sullivan is a superb artist but someone I have also worked with many times on Doctor Who (if you need Daleks drawing, he’s your man…). So you can imagine I might be a little biased in my comments.

Reviewed here is the paperback edition of a hardcover edition released last year by Disney Hyperion, based on story in the world famous Bartimaeus Trilogy by Stroud, consisting of The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye and Ptolemy’s Gate. Stroud says these are his most popular books, published in 38 countries worldwide, so it’s perhaps no surprize the first has now been adapted into graphic novel form – and a very enjoyable adaptation, too.

The story itself is superb – centring as it does on the exploits of the devious djinni, Bartimaeus,  summoned by a young apprentice, Nathaniel, and directed to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from the powerful magician, Simon Lovelace. (At first, Nathaniel’s motive is pure revenge for the way Lovelace has treated him – but as the story develops, it quickly turns out that the older magician deserves everything he gets).

Set in an alternate Britain where magician defend the realm (a tradition begun by Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone, it seems), Lee Sullivan – who describes the most intensive comic work he’s ever produced – brings Stroud’s glorious fantasy novel to life with aplomb, and Stroud and Donkin’s script makes good use of the different narratives in the story, with Bartimaeus telling his side and Nathaniel his.

Of course, even at 144 pages, it’s some challenge to bring the full depth of Stroud’s story to life and I’d have to say that with a higher page count the team might have been able to make more of some of the action sequences; and the final publication size of the book is a disappointment. This is a production crying out for the print equivalent of wide screen, in my opinion.

Despite this, Lee’s art is stunning, especially his realization of alternate London, which includes Crystal Palace and overviews of the House of Commons and more. His character work is great, particularly Bartimaeus, the various fantasy creatures such as letter-delivering imps and magician-guarding sentries. He also brings some real wamrth to scenes between Natahnie and the kind-hearted Mrs Underwood, the only person who shows the young boy any decency. Chapuis’ colouring more than does the work justice: although a more subtle palette might also have suited some older readers, the target audience will enjoy the brighter colour choices, especially when things explode and demons manifest.

All in all, a terrific adaptation of a great novel (and one I’ll now be hunting down to read in original form).

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The official Bartimaeus website

Creator Web Links

Jonathan Stroud

Andrew Donkin

Lee Sullivan
View production work and some final pages from the book here on his site

Nicolas Chapuis

• There will be a signing and Q&A by Jonathan Stroud to promote this book, plus live art by Andrew Donkin and Lee Sullivan at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Thursday 24th February 6 – 7.00pm. More info on the Forbidden Planet web site

Categories: British Comics

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