The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud – As you may recall, I had previously read the prequel to Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy, but none of the books in the trilogy itself. I have now gotten around to reading the first book, and I quite liked it. It takes place in modern-day Britain, except the government is made up of an elite group of magicians. It seems like the idea of an alternate Britain in which magic is possible is really popular. I’m sure there are such stories set in other countries as well, but it strikes me as particularly common in British fantasy. The general makeup of Stroud’s magical society is also fairly stereotypical, with the magicians being ambitious to the point where they’ll willingly take advantage of or even kill their fellows, and the djinn obeying commands only to the extent that they can’t find loopholes. So what’s new here? Well, I don’t know about NEW per se, but I think what really works is the narrative voice of Bartimaeus. He does an excellent job at providing the djinni’s point of view, and is a quite interesting and amusing character in his own right. I’m definitely going to be reading the other two when I get the chance, although I’m not sure when that will be. They’re not hard to find or anything, but I am moving soon, and that complicates matters a bit.
The Magnetic Fields, Love at the Bottom of the Sea – The latest album from Stephin Merritt and his fellow musicians is pretty typical of their style, full of synthesizers and clever and often humorous lyrics. Songs on the record cover such topics as conservative Christian attitudes on sex (“God Wants Us to Wait”), falling in love with a drag queen (“Andrew in Drag”), hiring an assassin to kill an ex-lover and his new girlfriend (“Your Girlfriend’s Face”), and running away to join the fairies. “The Horrible Party” brings back Daniel Handler on accordion, and the closer “All She Cares About Is Mariachi” manages to find three different rhymes for “mariachi.” I also have to say that “My Husband’s Pied-a-Terre,” thematically yet another tale of unfaithfulness and planned revenge, sounds a lot like some of the stuff on Merritt’s Showtunes collection.