The Golem's Eye by Jonathan Stroud

Seeking some light reading a while back I once again found myself reading young adult fantasy. Having read, and enjoyed, the first book in Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy, The Amulet of Samarkand, I was intrigued by the second, The Golem’s Eye. Although a little dismayed at its Harry Potter like size (562 pages), I thought it would be a relaxing change of pace from the barrage of information on the election and war in Iraq. It proved to be an interesting sequel but somehow less satisfying than the first book in the series. Ultimately it tells an interesting story but the material that accounts for its length fails to add much significance. Perhaps this is the pitfall of young adult literature.


The Golem’s Eye again focuses on the life of Nathaniel, a young and up-and-coming magician, and Bartimaeus, the dijin he summons to help him out. Nathaniel is now 14 and the youngest representative ever to the Office of Internal Affairs. His job is to seek out a destroy the rebel group of trouble makers know as the Resistance. Nathaniel had a run in with the Resistance in the first book, but their attacks have been increasingly bold and so have become a growing concern of the ruling magicians. When a series of attacks are credited to the group, and with Nathaniel making little progress, Bartimaeus is brought into help.

In the first book the story centered around Nathaniel while Bartimaeus provided the comic relief and, via humorous and self-serving footnotes, much of the historical backstory. The Golem’s Eye highlights another character, Kitty Jones, who – outside of a small run in with Nathaniel and Bartimaeus – played little part in the first book. Golem’s Eye tells the story of how Kitty became involved with the Resistance and how that involvement leads her to a clash with Nathaniel. As in the first book, the chapters switch perspectives between Nathaniel, Bartimaeus, and now Kitty.

Two things struck me as interesting:

1) I found myself wanting a more likeable character to root for as the story unfolded. Perhaps this makes me unsophisticated, but I like to have at least one character I find attractive or at least one I want to succeed. The Golem’s Eye, in my opinion, lacks a strong likable central character. In the first book Bartimaeus was clearly the most likable character. One could sympathize with and feel sorry for Nathaniel at times, but his stubbornness and arrogance made him a little unlovable. In contrast Bartimaeus was the most interesting and the most likable character; even when he was being selfish or teasing Nathaniel.

In the Golem’s Eye Nathaniel is if anything less likable as he has gained in arrogance and his circumstances no longer evoke pity. Bartimaeus is still the jester and the “sensible” character but a little of the novelty has warn off. His selfishness and lack of clear loyalty make him less sympathetic in my eyes. Kitty seems at fist the ideal person to root for but, like Nathaniel, she seems to have a stubborn streak; a kind of hardness to her demeanor. Despite the difficult circumstances that surround her, I found it hard to feel sorry for her or to understand her character.

2) Relatedly, I found the context of the book vague and confusing. Stroud really builds up the tension in this book between the magician ruling class and the rest of the English Empire. Kitty’s story, the infighting within the cabinet that Nathaniel must deal with, and the backstory that Bartimaeus relates all seem to paint a picture of an empire built on power and privilege at the expense of the non-magical. It is sort of a reverse Harry Potter where the magicians are the closed minded bigoted types.

I think these two factors reveal the potential weakness of young adult fiction. While the setting and context of the work raise a great many questions about the social and political make up of the fictional world Stroud creates, the work never really address them. It is as if Stroud wanted to add a layer of meaning a complexity to the story but couldn’t pull it off. In the first book the tension was easier to relieve because it was mostly personal; it was Nathaniel against the world so to speak. In the Golem’s Eye Stroud adds societal and cultural tensions that colour the world of Kitty and Nathaniel (and even Bartimaeus) but they don’t seem to lead anywhere. The characters don’t seem deeper or the world more complete because of them, rather they seem like unused background material.

Perhaps I am reading too much into this, after all it is really just a children’s book. But it seems to me that a sign of good writing is that the setting and background should never become a distraction. While I enjoyed the basic plot, and still found Bartimaeus to be a enjoyable character, I just kept wondering what the larger picture was meant to be. In other words, I was looking for an “adult” perspective on the issues raised; I wanted those tensions to have deeper meaning instead of serving as mere backdrop.

Even given all of the above, I am sure I will read the final chapter in the Bartimaeus trilogy when it comes out. I have invested too much to give up now. Maybe Stroud wraps it all up in a satisfying conclusion in book three . . .

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

View all posts

23 Comments

  • When Kevin tries to find “an “adult” perspective on the issues raised” when reviewing the book can he please realise that it isn’t meant for adults. It’s meant for young adults otherwise known as teenagers ans as a teengager I think it is very good as it’s sets us off thinking about social issues but doesn’t decide them for us. Also it doesn’t patronise us and lets us enjoy it rather than struggle to work out every paragraph’s meaning.

    Also please don’t call it just a children’s book. As it’s main audience as you’ve pointed out are young adults and therefore it’s just a young adult’s book. Which is fine.

    Do I insult Adult literature and say that most it’s authors and reviewers have sticks up their bottoms thinking they are too good for young adult literature and most are full of unorginal plot lines and themes? Both adult and young adult books are good for there audiences. The young adult market is sadly full of buffy and angel tv books and stuff like that but there are some very original books out there especially fantasy.

    May I recommend the Tales of the Otori triology, the second one is abit slow but still wonderful and the 1st and 3rd books are magical. Set on a Japanese style island full of warlords, assassasins and magic it describes a romance between Takeo and Kaede and how Takeo has to unite all the clans for survival. Also Mortal Engines by Philip Reeves about citys which travel around the world like animals, hunting each other for prey and Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series about Arthur a boy who finds himself the new Heir of “The House” which which controls and observes the universe however the trustees- The Morrowdays (Each a namesake for a day of the week) are after him and he has to defeat each one to get all the keys to the kingdom. Full of original touches like a fold away wings and sunships to the centre of stars.

    Overall if you want a adult’s book book buy an adult’s book. Don’t expect to get the same things from a young adult’s book and act as if by not having them it makes it any less of the book.

  • I think Kevin is definetely reading way too much into the story. Yes, I do agree with him on several levels, such as the fact that Nathaniel is a little less likeable, but obviously this is to build hopes up and to promote the readers to buying the third book, which is most certainly something I will do.

    After the first book, It is quite embarrasing for the reader to see Nathaniel in states that make him look like a complete idiot, such as the time he nearly mastered the staff but instead got himself nearly blown up into small bits in the process.

    I also disagree strongly with both Judith and Kevin on one point:
    Let’s not forget that this is a story. Do you know how they began? Not even written down. I’m sure whomever thought up the first story did not intend for it to turn out like this, where some kids analyze and analyze text that was written by someone who only wanted to share his ideas. Stories were meant for entertainment, not to get classified into “Children’s Books” and “Adult’s Novels”. Let me just say one thing:
    Try to enjoy the story.

    I am waiting anxiously for the third book, and I am sure it will come out sooner than expected.

  • I think Kevin is definetely reading way too much into the story. Yes, I do agree with him on several levels, such as the fact that Nathaniel is a little less likeable, but obviously this is to build hopes up and to promote the readers to buying the third book, which is most certainly something I will do.

    After the first book, It is quite embarrasing for the reader to see Nathaniel in states that make him look like a complete idiot, such as the time he nearly mastered the staff but instead got himself nearly blown up into small bits in the process.

    I also disagree strongly with both Judith and Kevin on one point:
    Let’s not forget that this is a story. Do you know how they began? Not even written down. I’m sure whomever thought up the first story did not intend for it to turn out like this, where some kids analyze and analyze text that was written by someone who only wanted to share his ideas. Stories were meant for entertainment, not to get classified into “Children’s Books” and “Adult’s Novels”. Let me just say one thing:
    Try to enjoy the story.

    I am waiting anxiously for the third book, and I am sure it will come out sooner than expected.

  • Ha! This reminds me of something, the exact thing you all are talking about! Mr. Kevin, if that IS your real name (probably is), you remind me exactly of Nathaniel, talking big words and trying to confuse us with your intellect. Also, Ms. Judith, you remind me of Kitty, incessantly contradicting Kevin (or Nathaniel) is a subject that is barely related to what the entire page is about. Ms. Katie basically collaborates, but I do agree with one thing she says: Try to enjoy the book.

    And one last thing Mr. Kevin, don’t constantly call this “light reading”. It only makes you sound funny. And will you please stop comparing it with Harry Potter?

    I think that both books were very excellent and when I came upon this page it outraged me that people were criticizing Mr. Stroud for a job(s) well done. 500 pages are alot for something written in one and half years, don’t forget!

  • Ha! This reminds me of something, the exact thing you all are talking about! Mr. Kevin, if that IS your real name (probably is), you remind me exactly of Nathaniel, talking big words and trying to confuse us with your intellect. Also, Ms. Judith, you remind me of Kitty, incessantly contradicting Kevin (or Nathaniel) is a subject that is barely related to what the entire page is about. Ms. Katie basically collaborates, but I do agree with one thing she says: Try to enjoy the book.

    And one last thing Mr. Kevin, don’t constantly call this “light reading”. It only makes you sound funny. And will you please stop comparing it with Harry Potter?

    I think that both books were very excellent and when I came upon this page it outraged me that people were criticizing Mr. Stroud for a job(s) well done. 500 pages are alot for something written in one and half years, don’t forget!

  • Dear Katie and Renee, thank you for pointing out that books are suppose to be enjoyed not analysed. I hate the way some adults look down on the genre I choose to read. I’m sorry about my last post. I think I was abit too angry about what Kevin had said and went over the top.
    Back to the subject of the page- I liked how book 2 was darker and am looking forward to book 3 very much. Renee- You think I’m like Kitty? That’s strange she’s my favourite character. I’m closest to her the most (except Bartimaeus who is just a great character in general). I think that people attach themselves to characters whether or not the characters make mistakes or have faults. Sadly I also think that Bartimaeus should of had a huge starring role but he didn’t. *sighs*

  • Dear Katie and Renee, thank you for pointing out that books are suppose to be enjoyed not analysed. I hate the way some adults look down on the genre I choose to read. I’m sorry about my last post. I think I was abit too angry about what Kevin had said and went over the top.
    Back to the subject of the page- I liked how book 2 was darker and am looking forward to book 3 very much. Renee- You think I’m like Kitty? That’s strange she’s my favourite character. I’m closest to her the most (except Bartimaeus who is just a great character in general). I think that people attach themselves to characters whether or not the characters make mistakes or have faults. Sadly I also think that Bartimaeus should of had a huge starring role but he didn’t. *sighs*

  • Judith, Katie, Renee, et al: Thanks for stopping by and starting up a discussion!

    In my defense, I think a book can be analyzed and enjoyed. And just because something is labeled doesn’t mean it is being dismissed. Books aimed at one audience might not work as well for another. I enjoyed reading book 2 I just thought it was curious on a certain level. I obviously enjoy reading young adult books as I have reviewed quite a few on this site. You can complain all you want but a young adult fantasy fiction is “light reading” compared to other subjects I read regularly. That isn’t bad though, if I try to read serious history and literature all the time I get burnt out.

    Good to have some young adult perspectives on the book though, so thanks again . . .

  • Thank you. Wow I’m not surprised at Judith’s comment that Kitty is her favorite character. I actually began to like her after a while too. Yes, this discussion was enlightening but out of curiosity, Kevin, what kinds of books do you read that aren’t considered ‘light reading’? In Highschool I am in the International Bacclaureate Program (and I hope i spelled it right )and we have had to read things like “All Quiet on the Western Front” and are in the process of reading “Gulliver’s Travels”. Actually I found both of those books to be very good even if at points they can be quite boring.

  • Katie was the one who pointed me out to this little conversation, and I found it pretty interesting. I like that Kevin is analyzing the book, it shows a deeper interest than just reading because its ‘something to do.’ Paying attention to deeper meanings is an awesome quality, you don’t find it much. One thing I wonder: is the Resistance even for sure the ‘bad guy(s)’ in the book? What are they Resisting, anyway? Is it possible the ‘heros’ are really that? By the author adding Kitty to be a double agent of sorts, I think there’s really something to look into there. Of course I could be way off-track, I haven’t actually read the book, past Kevin’s summary, (fantasy is definetly NOT my genre of choice, (and Katie, of course I liked LOTR, but its in a league of its own, I’m sure we can all agree on that. Plus, I don’t mind Harry Potter either, but I really think there is much to be desired when it comes to the writing. I read it because everyone else was.)
    So there’s my two cents. Kevin and Judith: Katie and Renee are two very intellegent and RAVISHING young ladies, if i do say so myself. LOL Katie (and Renee) see you at school!

  • Katie was the one who pointed me out to this little conversation, and I found it pretty interesting. I like that Kevin is analyzing the book, it shows a deeper interest than just reading because its ‘something to do.’ Paying attention to deeper meanings is an awesome quality, you don’t find it much. One thing I wonder: is the Resistance even for sure the ‘bad guy(s)’ in the book? What are they Resisting, anyway? Is it possible the ‘heros’ are really that? By the author adding Kitty to be a double agent of sorts, I think there’s really something to look into there. Of course I could be way off-track, I haven’t actually read the book, past Kevin’s summary, (fantasy is definetly NOT my genre of choice, (and Katie, of course I liked LOTR, but its in a league of its own, I’m sure we can all agree on that. Plus, I don’t mind Harry Potter either, but I really think there is much to be desired when it comes to the writing. I read it because everyone else was.)
    So there’s my two cents. Kevin and Judith: Katie and Renee are two very intellegent and RAVISHING young ladies, if i do say so myself. LOL Katie (and Renee) see you at school!

  • Perhaps Kevin just doesn’t like Kitty, the person Stroud has meant to become what Nathaniel was in book 1. Though this could be my biast talking since she’s my favourite character now……
    As a reviewer maybe Kevin starts analysing things without even thinking about it , I feel sorry for him if that is the case as how can you read a book when thinking about how good it is? Maybe that is why you didn’t enjoy the book as much due to concentrating too much on analysing it and less on just following the plot and enjoying it.
    I’m fine just reading “light reading”, I’m at 6th form (live in UK, I’m 16 but have left complusory education…it’s hard to explain how our educaton system works….) and too much revision for AS levels (We have GCSEs(15-16), then AS levels(16-17), then A levels(17-18) then university….too many exams!) means I want my reading to be easy. It’s suppose to be relaxing.

  • Perhaps Kevin just doesn’t like Kitty, the person Stroud has meant to become what Nathaniel was in book 1. Though this could be my biast talking since she’s my favourite character now……
    As a reviewer maybe Kevin starts analysing things without even thinking about it , I feel sorry for him if that is the case as how can you read a book when thinking about how good it is? Maybe that is why you didn’t enjoy the book as much due to concentrating too much on analysing it and less on just following the plot and enjoying it.
    I’m fine just reading “light reading”, I’m at 6th form (live in UK, I’m 16 but have left complusory education…it’s hard to explain how our educaton system works….) and too much revision for AS levels (We have GCSEs(15-16), then AS levels(16-17), then A levels(17-18) then university….too many exams!) means I want my reading to be easy. It’s suppose to be relaxing.

  • I am sorry for Kayla. YOU KIND OF NEED TO READ THE BOOK, TO KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON HERE! Kitty is resisting the magicians because they are control freaks who think they can step all over everyone and won’t get gum on their shoes in the process, to answer your question. Judith, you have a good point there. Your education system IS confunsing. In the US, we just have 1st grade, 2nd, grade, etc. I guess these “easy grades” are another excuse for our teachers to give us ‘heavy reading.”
    And yes, Kayla and Renee are my friends. I just hope they don’t embarrass me.
    Judith, If you liked THe Bartimaeus Series, another good book is Eragon, by Christopher Paolini.

  • Yeah Eragon is a good book (Have already read it but thanks for suggesting it), through I like the Bartimaeus trilogy better. The character’s names were strangely too familiar but I like how he has written it and how the main character has faults. I actually am on Bartimaeus’ and Kitty’s side (both want to get rid of the magicians though for different reasons).

  • Yeah Eragon is a good book (Have already read it but thanks for suggesting it), through I like the Bartimaeus trilogy better. The character’s names were strangely too familiar but I like how he has written it and how the main character has faults. I actually am on Bartimaeus’ and Kitty’s side (both want to get rid of the magicians though for different reasons).

  • The Second “Eldest” book is supposed to come out somewhere around May. I agree, The Batimaeus Trilogy is Better.