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children's literature, childhood and culture (and anything else that strikes my fancy).

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Location: pittsburgh, U.S. Outlying Islands

carbon-based life form: thinking, reading and gardening. New College alum; current grad student writing a dissertation. I specialize in children's literature, media, and culture, and queer/gender studies, with a strong interest in 19th century British literature and culture. I like history, a lot.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Bartimaeus: Ptolemy's Gate

I finished reading Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy about a week ago. Due to unbelievable amounts of busy-ness I haven't been able to collect my thoughts and post them here...but now I'm taking time out from the busy-ness (stolen time, really) to do so.

I'm happy to admit to being wrong: my first impressions of the trilogy were incorrect. After reading Ptolemy's Gate, I have to say Stroud has created a really fantastic work of fantasy/fiction. My one remaining complaint - and I think it's a valid one - is that somehow all three books felt a little too long, too wordy. Tighter editing would have worked wonders, but in retrospect, the books are strong enough that even with this verbosity: they're still remarkable.

I'm currently taking a class on queer theory, so I'm on Heightened Alert for queerness. and Ptolemy's Gate has it. Probably all three books have it, really. The most exciting moment for this came late in Ptolemy's Gate, when Bartimaeus (as narrator) says "It was all a bit butch and male." I can't say more without Giving Away The Plot, but my goodness! a book "for children" that says something was butch!!!!!


Stroud does a good job, I think, of making his main three characters - Nathaniel/Mandrake, Kitty and Bartimaeus - morally complex. This is no Manichean universe; these are good, bad, confused, complicated characters. The books refuse simple choices and predictability; the Other Place perhaps crystallizes this complexity. It was difficult for me (via Kitty Jones) to get my brain around a place so Other but it is an appealing Other Place, and one worth thinking about.

I'm certainly also a fan of the progressive - moderately progressive, anyway - politics of the book. any world where the ruling class is challenged is usually good with me.

So: recap. The Bartimaeus trilogy is definitely a keeper. I think eventually I'll re-read it, although I don't find it as intensely satisfying and in need of re-visiting as, say, Diana Wynne Jones's novels.

I have to say, though, I'm not sure how to deal with the ending of Ptolemy's Gate: in some ways, it was deeply satisfying. In other ways........I felt somehow cheated. I'm really not sure yet how I feel about this, but I do know the trilogy, as a whole, was definitely worth reading.


Blogger Michele said...

I'm so glad you finished and enjoyed Stroud's trilogy... Did you feel that the ending was at all open-ended ? My own feeling was that there was the potential to continue the tales of at least two of the characters (can't say more without giving away the ending !)

Going to the Other Place was a difficult trip to make, wasn't it ?

2:39 PM  
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