In a parallel modern-day London, Parliament is in the hands of a despotic group of magicians. They are ruthless, dishonest and secretive about the real source of their power: spirits, summoned through their knowledge of magic and enslaved to do their bidding.
Sold to the government by his parents, 5 year-old Nathaniel is apprenticed to Mr Underwood, a mediocre, unimportant ministry official who grudgingly takes him into his house to teach him magic.
Clever, ambitious, strong-willed and hungry for knowledge, Nathaniel is impatient to prove his worth and is constantly frustrated by his dull master, who fails to recognise his talent and thinks very little of him.
Nathaniel is little more than 10 years old when Simon Lovelace, a rising and duplicitous magician, humiliates him publicly. Nathaniel vows to pay him back and spends a full year preparing his revenge.
For this, he needs to enslave a powerful spirit: enter Bartimaeus, a 5,000 year old witty, irreverent djinni, summoned to steal an artefact currently in Lovelace’s possession – the Amulet of Samarkand.
Bartimaeus unenthusiastically sets off to obey Nathaniel’s charge, eager only to see the end of his slavery. He quite easily manages to steal the Amulet, narrowly avoids being robbed by a trio of kids strangely unaffected by his powers, and then, following Nathaniel’s orders, hides the Amulet in Mr Underwood’s study.
The theft of the Amulet sets in motions a series of unexpected events that find Nathaniel continuously struggling to regain a measure of control over his life.
To complicate matters, Bartimaeus accidentally learns Nathaniel’s name – a potentially powerful weapon for the djinni. However, the young apprentice manages to outwit him and charges him to discover more about the Amulet.
This proves to be quite a hazardous job for Bartimaeus: arrested, imprisoned in the Tower of London, pursued by Lovelace’s powerful djinni Jabor and Farquarl, he eventually escapes and makes his way back to Nathaniel.
Simon Lovelace, who needs the Amulet to carry out his own sinister plan – a conspiracy to overthrow the current government – has Bartimaeus followed, and so learns its location. He confronts Mr Underwood, thinking him the thief, and easily overpowers him. Nathaniel, trying to set things right, gives himself up, but he fails to change Lovelace’s plan to set fire to the house and destroy any trace of his crimes.
Bartimaeus saves Nathaniel from the fire and they both escape. Nathaniel, shocked by the dire consequences of his actions, and racked by guilt and sorrow, decides to expose Lovelace’s conspiracy and have him arrested.
This decision initiates a whole new series of incredible and dangerous adventures, that take place at a breathtaking pace. Only Bartimaeus’s reluctant help will tip the balance in Nathaniel’s favour, helping him succeed in thwarting Lovelace’s conspiracy and, finally, in being recognised for the talented magician he is.