Well, Stroud sure has a very endearing way of treating his characters. I finished The Golem's Eye a little before lunch today and though there were times in the book when I felt like things were slacking a bit, in the end, I was filled with the same warmth and snorting-smile-to-self as had happened at the end of The Amulet of Samarkand. It was a good story and even better story-telling.
Perhaps the latter supersedes the former.
The plot isn't exactly genius, if you discount the use of detailed mythology and historical facts, which, on the other hand, is spot on. I like the way Stroud weaves through his characters and actions, more than trying to build up unnecessary potboiler-suspense. The book benefits from the firmly established characters of Nathaniel and Bartimaeus and some other side characters, and the add-ons to their existing layers of personalities appear well-thought of and disconcertingly real. The opening pages of the book were absolutely riveting, but in all fairness, any scene consisting of Bartimaeus is like unexpectedly finding ice-cream in the fridge. At times though, the flow did seem to stumble, especially, when the Resistance took the stage. In a world where everything was apparently structured - albeit in a malignant, tarry way - Mr Pennyfeather and his incohesive gang seemed almost painful to read about. Barring these sections, there were delightful phases ( I personally loved the James Bond-ish Prague episode) on and off.
Besides the key protagonists, the one entity which has claimed a very exalted position in my scrap-book of cool characters is Honorious ! Nothing morbid about it please; in fact Stroud has outdone himself in describing the afrit and its exploits are about as interesting as Bartimaeus', though plainly due to very different, sickening reasons. To my mind, he is almost like Batman's Joker !
Ad then there is Kitty. I have had people telling me that they absolutely loved her. I liked her too, but not enough until the tomb incident, after which my luke-warm feeling towards her changed to utter respect. Talk about building strong female characters. She is every bit a Lara Croft with less glam and a real backstory.
And where do I begin with the eternal duo of Nat and Bartimaeus. The former disgusts me about as much as I seem to enjoy Bartimaeus. The djinni's tongue-in-cheek demeanour is of course a constant source of joy, though this time around, there are also glimpses of its soul and conscience. Reading about Bart always reminds me of those rare people we all know of who grin and bear things so well, that after a pint you wish they would stop and share a bit of their burden. In Bartimaeus, I see a good, honest, highly intelligent mind, put to mostly unworthy, petty causes beyond his control and its ability to take that all in stride. Maybe, thats what most of us humans are anyway. Nathaniel on the other hand, seems filthy in comparison, though deep down I know he is a good lad. Besides his physical transformation, he still seems a child, albeit a prodigious one. It is an unlikely partnership that I'm not very happy about, but the only solace is that neither party is outright evil.
There now. I am getting emotional !
Moving on to clinical criticism, the language of the book is another reason why I loved it so much. The parlance is modern and casual. In fact, its simplicity while describing something other-worldly is truly amazing and worth emulating. For instance, the description of the British Museum incident is an outstanding example of how to give a first-hand account of things almost factually, and letting the readers grow a picture in the mind.
This being the second book in the trilogy, I am looking forward to start on the final installment, maybe a couple of weeks later though. Till then, I can imagine the little, dark-skinned boy in a wrapped skirt smirking at the floppy-haired Mandrake !