The Golem’s Eye is a solidly enjoyable if slightly disappointing follow-up to The Amulet of Samarkand, which admittedly set itself a very high standard. The book returns to the same setting and characters first introduced in Samarkand, while expanding upon the first novel with a few new characters, one new setting (Prague) and a somewhat more complicated plot.
As in the first book, the major story involves a plot against the government which Nathaniel the young ambitious wizard must confront with his much more wise and experienced (and acidic) djinn, Bartimeus. Suspects are the Prague Council, a traitor within the British govt., someone bent on personal revenge, and the Resistance, including young Kitty from book one.
All the strengths of the first book remain, though diluted somewhat in execution. Stroud’s world, a modern-day England where demon-summoning, backstabbing wizards rule in luxury over a mostly-complacent lower class and a small minority of rebels, is nicely detailed in touches both large and small. Beside the major plot conflicts, there is a constant undercurrent of tension caused by the larger societal conflicts (magic versus unmagic, upper-class versus lower class, natives versus immigrants), infighting among several groups (the ruling magicians, the smaller Resistance movement), and tangential references to outside conflicts (impending war with America, continuing strain within the empire with regard to conquered areas, especially Prague). Not to mention the inherent hostility between the wizard-rulers and their summoned/captive demons, wonderfully captured in one of my favorite scenes.
The structure, which switches point-of-view among Nathaniel, Kitty, and Bartimeus remains an effective device though for some reason doesn’t seem quite so smoothly done as in Samarkand.
Character development is as strong, however, as all three of the major characters — Nathaniel, Kitty, Bartimeus — face several major turning points and personal crises. These are fully fleshed out characters here exhibiting a range of emotions and reactions, a range of traits both positive and negative, all of them believable and realistic. As in book one, Stroud is not afraid to have one of his major characters, Nathaniel, be highly unlikeable in places. Kitty is certainly more likeable, while Bartimeus remains the most enjoyable.
That last is part of the problem here for he is also the one least present in The Golem’s Eye. When he is on the page, he carries the book along swiftly with a bitingly funny narrative voice. When he isn’t there, his absence is sometimes strongly felt. Certainly for those who loved Samarkand in large part for the voice of Bartimeus, his lessened presence here is cause for some small disappointment.
The book is also too long; it easily could have lost a hundred or so pages which would have not only sped things along a bit but also would have given Bartimeus proportionately more space.
The plots are interesting and while they are “resolved” so that the book can stand on its own, there are enough unanswered questions that one wants to move right on to the next book in the series. And while each of the major characters develops throughout the book, he/she/it is left still unformed, still in the process of becoming. Wanting to learn how they turn out is an even more compelling lure than the ongoing plot.
Disappointing with respect to its predecessor, but Samarkand was so good it should come as no surprise if Stroud didn’t quite match it. As its own book, The Golem’s Eye is still highly enjoyable, though readers will probably wish the parts with Bartimeus were more frequent and the other sections not as long. Still a strong recommendation with a lot of anticipation for the next one.