Book review

Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud (2005)

Part three of the Bartimaeus Trilogy

Power corrupts. We know that. But once you have tasted power, and been corrupted, is there a way back?

What is to become of John Mandrake?

John Mandrake was an attractive young man, and the scent of power hung about him, sweet and intoxicating, like honeysuckle in the evening air.

Do you remember him when he was called Nathaniel? He was different then. Small and weedy. Lonely. But even then he had a passionate impatience to become a powerful magician. And he had the intellectual power necessary to achieve his aims.

It didn't take him long. He took the name John Mandrake and won a position in the government, working his way up quickly to join the elite of the government. Minister of Information. Misinformation, we might say. There's still unrest amongst the commoners. There's still a Resistance, of sorts. There's still a war being fought overseas. But John Mandrake isn't worried. He can deal with it all:

Mr Mandrake was considered by his rivals to be formidably, indeed dangerously, talented, and - following his promotion to Information Minister - they responded accordingly. But each attempted assassination had been cursorily rebuffed: djinn failed to return, booby traps rebounded on the sender, hexes snapped and withered. At last, tiring of this, Mandrake made a point of publicly challenging any hidden enemy to come forward and tackle him in magical combat. No one answered his call, and his standing rose higher than ever.

The thing is though, it doesn't matter how meteoric John Mandrake's rise to power has been, he's still acquired some baggage along the way. How could it be otherwise? He's only human. There's Kitty. Remember her? I don't mean to be rude if I refer to her as baggage. But she still features in John Mandrake's conscience. Bartimaeus sees to that:

I took to wearing the semblance of Kitty Jones, the Resistance girl Mandrake had persecuted years before. Her assumed death still weighed on his conscience: I knew this because he always reacted to my echo of her face with a reddening of his own. He'd get all angry and sheepish, assertive and embarrassed at the same time. Didn't make him treat me any better, mind.

And there's the great Bartimaeus himself. John Mandrake still hangs on to him, even though he doesn't really need to any more and even though the very act of keeping Bartimaeus in this world is weakening the djinn profoundly. Why is that, do you think? Bartimaeus thinks he knows:

All his old life - the years with the Underwoods, his vulnerable existence as the boy Nathaniel, the ideals he'd once espoused - was buried away deep down. Every link with his childhood was severed, except for me. I don't think he could bring himself to break this last connection.

Anyway, that's how things stand at present. Now John Mandrake's a busy man. There's a country to run and a war to be fought. If you want to know how he gets on you'll have to read the book.

As a boy, Nathaniel yearned for power. As John Mandrake, he got it. Now, it seems, the bit that is still Nathaniel deep inside, might be changing his mind... What is to become of John Mandrake?

A brilliant conclusion to the trilogy. Irresistible reading.

What can I read next?

It's a trilogy. You need to read it in order:

For another series that mixes magic with both comedy and tragedy you might enjoy the Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. Have a look at this one:

If you enjoy magic, and like a serious story line, you might like to take a look at this book by Joseph Delaney:

Or you might like to look at this compelling time travel fantasy trilogy by Mary Hoffman:

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