Update: Jonathan Stroud is just publishing a new fantasy novel: The Heroes of the Valley.
The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud
New York : Hyperion Books For Children, c2003.
also on audio, Listening Library, 2003
ages 10 - 14
What better way to hook the kids who grew up on Harry Potter than by showing them how the government is really ruled by power-hungry magicians? Then throw into the mix, a young magician in training who is determined not to be taken advantage of. Jonathan Stroud has created just such a world in his Bartimaeus trilogy: The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem's Eye, and Ptolemy's Gate.
The book takes place in London, where the Prime Minister and all the members of Parliament are powerful magicians who rule the British Empire. Nathaniel is a young boy who has been sold at an early age to be a magician's apprentice, under the tutelage of Arthur Underwood. Arthur is a distant, grim teacher, who sets about ignoring Nathaniel - but Nathaniel eagerly delves into his studies, beyond Arthur's teachings. When he is ruthlessly humiliated by a very powerful magician, Nathaniel summons a djinni, the ancient Bartimaeus to help him seek revenge.
Nathaniel's story (told in the third person) alternates with Bartimaeus's voice as he tells his story. Bartimaeus is a wonderful character: pissed off as can be about being ordered around by insignificant magicians who control him, cocky and rude, and essentially just looking after himself. In the audiobook, Simon Jones really brings Bartimaeus's voice alive. I was hooked from the very beginning.
Kids who like action and fantasy, with some political power struggles thrown into the mix will love this. Find it at the Oakland Public Library or the Berkeley Public Library.
PS: Thanks to Aiden and his dad for the recommendation!