Title: The Amulet of Samarkand
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Published: 2004, Hyperion
Category: Young Adult/Fantasy
This is the first in Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy. I'd heard of these books a while ago, but had dismissed them as Harry Potter knockoffs. But I finally read this one because Bookseller Chick said it was really good.
In the world of these books, magicians are an elite class who have no magical abilities themselves, but who have the knowledge of how to summon magical creatures to do their bidding. Nathaniel is a talented 12-year-old apprentice who summons a djinn, Bartimaeus, for the purpose of stealing the Amulet of Samarkand from his enemy Simon Lovelace. The amulet turns out to be an incredibly powerful magical object, and soon Lovelace and the government are chasing Nathaniel and Bartimaeus to retrieve it.
Nathaniel and Bartimaeus are both fantastic characters. Nathaniel is pretty complex--endearing as a lonely, unloved boy who is very smart, but he is also a little ruthless in his ambition. He wants to do great things, but it's easy to see that he is misguided. Bartimaeus is very funny. He is a millennia-old magical creature of great power, but he is constantly having to submit to being the servant of human magicians. He is consequently jaded and contemptuous of Nathaniel. But I loved that, though he complains about it, he does go to great lengths to help Nathaniel.
So I'm not going to gush yet, but this is definitely a good start to the trilogy. It is really original and imaginative and I can already see that the plot is going to go in some very interesting directions in the next two books.
And often with series, I don't really, really love them until further in. (For instance, I didn't really get into Harry Potter until I hit the third book, and now I am a Harry Potter FREAK. I love them to absurdity.)