Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud

This review was first published on June 30, 2016

Rupert Devereaux (let’s think, a Mr. David Cameron) is the Prime Minister of Britain, governing it with mediocre talent, lots of dinner parties and his much-conflicted Council. Britain is fighting a war with America, which desperately wants the Brits out (you know who else wants out?) and the Council is divided on further course of action needed. The Conservatives seem divided, the Labour party is divided. The Brits are losing, the country is no longer in the mood to support war and resources are stretching thin.

The Czechs, enemies of this Britain, are attacking it in small numbers and the government must keep a tight control on Czech residents living here, as we saw with the Hyrneks in The Golem’s Eye. Notice how control has been the operative word throughout the Brexit campaign. Kitty, who is a legally dead outlaw living under two pseudonyms, writes: “…it was an identity swathed in darkness and dreams.” Pretty sure it’s what the immigrants feel.

John Mandrake is the Information Minister, whose task is to get out the best propaganda that paints a rosy picture of a lost war with the catchiest headlines (or the entire Boris Johnson campaign that seems to have made a joke of the NHU and a host of other false promises and utter lies). He has many a demon servant to his beck and call like Ascobol, Hodge, Cormocodran and Mwamba that help him in his PR pursuit. (Think: Michael Gove)

Quentin Makepeace, the celebrated playwright is ready with the play of a lifetime, a tribute to the PM himself (see how the Leave camp spoke of Cameron) and is staging it with the entire government in attendance. The real theatrical is behind the scenes though, where Quentin and small band of nobody-magicians, along with the historian Mr Hopkins, whose body is now controlled by the demon Faquarl, plan to ‘call demon entities’ into their bodies to seek dual control. Only, Quentin goes overboard and calls for Lord Nouda, a powerful entity he cannot tame. The Guardian wrote this: As campaigners, the leave politicians were sometimes shambolic and often contradictory; now they have been handed victory, they have unleashed forces well beyond their control.

All the magicians in Britain, which is basically the entire government, are scared of the rising number of people born with resilience to magic and take to extreme steps to assure that protests are thwarted early. Brexit campaigners like Justice Secretary Michael Gove rejected every expert as part of a self-serving conspiracy of the haves against the have-nots, said an article on Project Syndicate. 

William Gladstone’s legacy as a nation builder is far less glorified than before, but his all-powerful Staff lies hidden, and it’s the only thing that could help destroy the demons unleashed. Notice how often and how contradictorily Churchill has been invoked in the barrage of articles. Whether he would Vote Leave or Vote Remain, no one can really answer. 

And who is Bartimaeus, you ask? Why, a certain Mr. John Oliver of course!

Amongst the chaos that Britain is, in Ptolemy’s Gate, we see Bartimaeus almost dying but thankfully not his wit and commentary; we see Kitty become not only perhaps the first commoner to summon Bart but also the first person in 2000 years to do the reverse summoning: visit the Other Place. We see Nathaniel, post Quentin’s treachery, realising how futile his defence of the government was, intent on saving the people.

After the proverbial hero has done his deed, with a little lady luck and magic, there comes the phase of building the nation from the ruins (Oh, political slogans galore!) Ms. Piper and Mr. Buttons form the Interim Government, a stabilising unit till steps must be taken. Kitty is left with nothing, but her own experiences. Sadly though, here in 2016, no Mandrake may turn over to become a Nathaniel. We can hope. We surely can.

Running parallel is Ptolemy’s Alexandria of 124 BC, an ancient civilisation where Bartimaeus is Rekhyt, where human and djinni are for the first time on friendly terms. The endeavour that begins with Ptolemy writing Apocrypha ends successfully 2000 years later when Nathaniel and Bartimaeus reside in one body and fight as two powers in perfect unison. Above all, Alexandria reminds us that some ideas transcend time, that people come and ago, civilisations rise and fall; but the world moves as it always must. Britain has seen the height of civilisational glory. Will Brexit mark its absolute fall? And what will this endeavour conclude in? 

While I choke at the ‘realistic’ way young-adult novels end, be it Eragon or The Bartimaeus Trilogy, I can only be a detached observer of a changing world order and wonder: Why do we call it fiction? The book, written in 2005, invokes too much of the reality, if not the nuances, we are living and facing and fighting to make untrue.

J.K Rowling said: I don’t think I’ve ever wanted magic more.

Neither have I.

Favourite Quote

He was a worried man (I’m stretching the term a bit here, I know. By now, in his mid to late teens, he might just about have passed for a man. When seen from behind. At a distance. On a very dark night).

Recommended Age Group: If the kid is a reader, no age is too young. Otherwise, 10-12 is a good time.

Final Verdict: 📖📖📖📖 – Go to a bookstore and buy it. Pay those extra bucks.

Publisher: Corgi Childrens

You can buy the book here.

***

I have neither right nor authority to speak on international politics, I go with what I read and a little common sense. What it means to be a citizen of Britain, UK and EU, I will never know. But I am a human, and if everything they say about Boris Johnson, about he just wanting to make a point, about how Leave voters are really regretting their votes, I worry, for what it might mean for the rest of the world’s leadership and democracies. 

Since I wrote this article, another, an even more disastrous election has come and gone. Not much has changed besides the geography. Let’s see what 2017 shows us. 

 

 

*Feature Image Courtesy – Ebookee


Prakruti Maniar, who writes under the name Sakhi, is a journalist at Hindustan Times, Mumbai and partner of onWriting. She loves all things language and literature, and is committed to bringing non-English Indian literature to the mainstream.

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