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One of the first series I've ever read was about a young boy who was learning to become a mage. In this world it was possible to summon demons of different categories, ranging from small and not very powerful Fairy-like creatures, to Gargoyle-like mid-powerful creatures up to giant monsters devouring everything in sight.

What made this series special was the way it was written. Whenever the demon, who was summoned by the young boy, was narrating the story he used cynical annotations about the current situation.1 It was very funny and the in-character reason for providing the annotations was that the puny human readers wouldn't be able to understand the grand way in which he was thinking about everything at the same time.2 Therefore he provided the reader with annotations to make it "easier" to follow his line of thinking.

I absolutely loved the humor. The story itself was about having to steal certain items from more powerful wizards and trying to escape the problems that arose from these acts I think. With each book a few years passed and in the last one he was working in some sort of agency, not really a "young boy" anymore.

There were three books in the series and one prologue book that I've read. I remember that one of the catch-phrases or signature spells or things like that, which the demon used regularly was introduced in the prologue book. A funny thing because of how he always tried to emphasize how much of a genius and how original in his thinking he was.

I've read the books in German. The title contained the name of the demon, something like "[name here] and the [item to be stolen]".

Other random things I remember:

  • the demon was always trying not to get into any trouble
  • he loved to send weaker demons into the fight and wait for everything to settle down
  • the wizards had to be extremely careful when telling the demons what to do so as not to give them a chance to misinterpret the intent
    • no intonations
    • no breathing in and thereby pausing
    • ...
  • there were a dozen categories for the demons, each one with a different name

Can you help me remember which series this is?


1 [Insert funny text here as an example.]

2 Magical creatures are just better at everything.

  • I knew this as soon as I saw the title :-D Good detailed description! – Rand al'Thor Oct 14 '17 at 12:14
87

You're looking for the Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud, the first book of which is "The Amulet of Samarkand"

A brief summary of the trilogy from the wiki (spoilered for those who haven't read the series yet):

As the books progress, three story arcs become evident. The largest and overarching plot line is the rise and fall of London as a global authority. The second and third are more personal: the boy changing from the pitiful, yet noble, Nathaniel, to the power-hungry, arrogant John Mandrake and finally earning back his humility and nobility; and the third, involving Kitty and Bartimaeus. In the third story arc, Kitty proves her faith to Bartimaeus by doing something only one non-demon had ever done (Ptolemy) when she goes to the Other Place. John Mandrake (Nathaniel) also shows unusual courage and loyalty as he dismisses Bartimaeus, when surely they were going to die, eventually saving the life of a demon. They end up restoring each other's faith in their races.

Each of the three books is named for a magical artifact or spell: the Amulet of Samarkand, named after the city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan, renders the wearer invulnerable to magical attacks; a Golem's Eye is an enchanted piece of clay in the form of an eye that when placed in the forehead of a Golem, enables one to control the golem; Ptolemy's Gate, named for ancient Greek astrologer and mathematician Ptolemy of Alexandria, is a method that enables a human to enter the realm of spirits.

Some quotes relevent to the points you remember:

  • "the demon was always trying not to get into any trouble"

    According to some, heroic deaths are admirable things. I've never been convinced by this argument, mainly because, no matter how cool, stylish, composed, unflappable, manly, or defiant you are, at the end of the day you're also dead. Which is a little too permanent for my liking.

  • "the wizards had to be extremely careful when telling the demons what to do - they were not allowed any special intonations, breathing, ... when commanding the demons so as not to give them a chance to misinterpret the intent"

    Perhaps he'd want me to conjure up an illusion. That might be fun: there was bound to be a way of misinterpreting his request and upsetting him†.

    †One magician demanded I show him an image of the love of his life. I rustled up a mirror.

  • "there was a dozen of categories for the demons, each one with a different name"

    The spirits in the series are ranked into 7 major classes; Sub-Imp, Imp, Foliot, Djinni, Afrit, Marid & Super-Marid in order of ascending power. Sub-Imps were rarely named as they weren't worth summoning or studying. Super-Marids were also ill understood, however for a different reason; they were far too intelligent, powerful & often destructive to summon.

    The classes were also subdivided into an unknown amount of levels. High levels of a lower class are similar in strength to low level djinns of the class above them, and may occasionally win in battle.

    (From wikipedia, couldn't find a direct quote)

  • 2
    +1. An incredible series of stories. We listened to the audio version (on CD, if that matters) and it was very well read, too. – Wayne Sep 26 '17 at 15:37
  • 2
    Re the last point, here's an exact quote from a footnote in book 3 (which also demonstrates Bartimaeus's boastful humour): "Oh. Right. Well, it's like this. As I may have mentioned once or twice, there are five basic levels of spirit: imps (reprehensible), foliots (negligible), djinn (a fascinating class, with one or two absolute gems), afrits (overrated) and marids (dreadfully full of themselves). Above these levels exist more powerful entities, shadowy by nature, who are only occasionally summoned or even defined." – Rand al'Thor Oct 14 '17 at 12:12
  • @Randal'Thor Then am I right in thinking that Bartimaeus is a djinn? :-) – A. B. Mar 16 at 0:18
  • @A.B. A djinni (singular), but yes :-) – Rand al'Thor Mar 16 at 10:10
4

EDIT: On re-reading the OP, I don't think this is the right series... I don't recall there being any annotations.

This sounds to me a bit like one of my favorites, the Myth series by Robert Asprin ... "Another Fine Myth" was book 1. Hilarious series, very fun read.

Summary from Wikipedia:

Skeeve, a magician's apprentice and wannabe thief from the dimension Klah, tries to learn the basics of magic from Master Magician Garkin for several months but to no avail. Skeeve can do little more than float a feather or light a candle using magic. Wanting to convince Skeeve that being a thief is not as good as being a magician, Garkin summons a demon. During the summoning an assassin barges into the hut, and Garkin and the assassin kill each other. Skeeve is left alone with the demon. To Skeeve's surprise the demon politely introduces himself as Aahz. Aahz explains that demon is slang for Dimension Traveler. He further explains that there are thousands of dimensions with different races in them, and that he is from the dimension of Perv, making Aahz a Pervect, while Skeeve is a Klahd. Aahz is a master magician like Garkin but loses his magical powers during the summoning ritual (due to a practical joke played on him by Garkin) and becomes stranded in Klah. Aahz volunteers to take Skeeve on as his apprentice and teach him magic.

The pair then embark on a series of misadventures as they try to evade more assassins trailing Skeeve. They decide to confront Isstvan, a dangerous Master Magician who plans to conquer all the other dimensions. Along the way they meet, and swindle, a demon hunter named Quigley. They encounter the assassins, and are saved by Skeeve's new magic. With information from the assassins they encounter Frumple, a merchant who transports them to the dimension of Deva (where the Deveels, master bargainers, live) so they can visit the Bazaar to find something to use against Isstvan.

On Deva, Aahz abandons Skeeve while he searches for a solution to their Isstvan problem. Skeeve gets into all kinds of trouble. First Skeeve bonds himself to the dragon Gleep; the infuriated dragon master forces Skeeve to purchase the dragon. Next Skeeve encounters Tananda, a Trollop from Trollia. She's strikingly beautiful and a former assassin and con artist working with a pack of ruffians to shake down tourists in the Bazaar. Skeeve is chosen as their next target; however, he doesn't get shaken down because Tananda and Aahz are old buddies. Aahz finds the solution to their Isstvan problem and the three of them, with the dragon Gleep, go back to Klah.

Back on Klah, Quigley, the demon hunter, joins their troupe. The five would-be heroes and the dragon Gleep and Quigley's war unicorn Buttercup confront Isstvan and defeat him by tricking him into consuming wine that destroys his magical ability. The defeated Isstvan and his allies leave Klah using a D-Hopper, a device that allows the user(s) to hop between dimensions. Tananda and Quigley leave too. Skeeve and Aahz remain at the Inn, and Aahz begins teaching his new apprentice more of the mastery of Magic.

  • 3
    Yeah. The closest you get are the fake quotes at the chapter headings (which Aspirin later denounced, saying that he never would have started if he'd realized how popular they'd get, forcing him to come up with a dozen more every book). – FuzzyBoots Sep 26 '17 at 15:03
  • LOL that's funny about the quotes, I didn't know they had caused such trouble for him! – Jonathan van Clute Sep 26 '17 at 15:07

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