Just finished Jonathan Stroud's first Bartimaeus book The Amulet of Samarkand and immediately ran out to buy the other two.
A perfect book of its kind: perfectly structured, with the desired surprising yet well set up and foreshadowed ending. A couple of things that challenged me here: it took a long time--perhaps too long--for the protagonist to become sympathetic. An initial scene in which the protag as a very young child is deliberately terrified by his tutor goes a long way towards making him sympathetic, but his slightly older self is so unlikeable that I start to lose heat for him almost immediately. I was nearly cold by the time he started behaving ... uh ... well? again. I'm not sure this was a bad thing.
The second thing was that Stroud really doesn't seem to like the literary convention that shows the reader certain minor dangers--risks--the protag is running, and then lets the protag off the hook. For example: the protag is sneaking into a building and there are sentries. The narrator points out how observant the sentries are yet, by the skin of his teeth, the protag gets past them without being noticed. Seen it a million times, right?
Stroud doesn't do that. Every risk his characters run pays off in trouble. If there are observant sentries, they will observe the protag and he'll reap consequences sooner or later. Not a single pistol on the mantelpiece doesn't get discharged. This was cool at first: ratcheted up the tension and dealt with that niggling feeling I've always had that authors ran out of inspiration or just couldn't keep the pace up and that's the only reason why their protags got away with so much.
But the fact is, not EVERY risk is going to end badly for the risk taker. If you read stories of real-life crime and spying, the second thing you'll notice (the first is that no real-life stories are well-structured or easy to get your head around) is that people get away with stuff not because they're super smart and competent, but because other people are easy to fool and most mistakes don't get caught. So ultimately, this tactic of Strouds starts to wear.
But overall, the best post-Harry Potter jones-assuager I've read so far. Can't wait to get to the others.