The Power of Fiction: Sabine Mathiebe on Jonathan Stroud

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Welcome back! We've already been on quite a journey together, and it's wild to me to think that there are only a few guest posts left before the end of this series and the subsequent release of Fictitious, a poetry collection dedicated to the fiction that impacted me, influenced me, and even shaped me. It's been remarkable to hear from so many people from so many different backgrounds- authors and artists, actors, and students -about how important fiction has been in their lives. Today, we'll be hearing from blogger and book lover Sabine Mathiebe on the series that both sparked her imagination as a child and became a cornerstone of comfort throughout her life.

Made by: Fiction
by Sabine Mathiebe

I read a lot of books before and after Bartimaeus – more after than before, but it’s not the series that started my love for literature. No, it did something way more significant – though I have only realised it now, years after I first read it. I say "first" because I read these four books again and again. They are some of my go to books when I feel drained, when I feel hopeless, when I want to feel like myself again… I read these books.

But that is also not the reason I love them. This is not the only way they influence me. This story is home to me, because it makes so much of who I am. Or basically helped make me in the first place.

For anyone who has never heard of The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud – it has been described as some kind of steampunk/fantasy novel series. There is the main trilogy and an extra book that works as a prequel to the others. The protagonist gives the series its title – Bartimaeus, a djinni. The story is told from sometimes two, sometimes three perspectives.

All in all, what the characters, the plot, all the witty, gritty pages told me was a lot but maybe the most important thing that these books sparked in me, before any other book or tv show or quote or anything else… that was the idea of unity in diversity. Unity in diversity. Yes, that's a mouthful, but what do I mean with it?

I have found this idea in other stories afterwards, for example in the tv show Sense8, but probably without Bartimaeus I wouldn’t have been able to understand. It makes so much of what I see in the world and in myself. The power of helping each other despite differences in times of need, that‘s what the conflict of Bartimaeus is about often enough. The story is shaped by the paths of people (or beings) who couldn’t be more different and it told me so much about what working together, getting to know others lives and opinions can change (and what doesn’t if you don‘t).

It also kind of sparked my interest in history. For any of you who haven’t read it yet, of course I’m not going to spoil the plot but the story is a steampunk alternate-reality with demons and power-hungry magicians. Most of the action happens in London which is still a colonial power in the narrative of the series and oppresses not only other countries but also their own people who don’t have control over magic. Well, and magical beings who they use as slaves. Doesn’t seem that unconventional or original? Well, magic in the sense of The Bartimaeus Sequence is just knowledge. And the lower-class people are being oppressed by the ones with the power (of knowledge) over magical beings. Minus the part with the djinni there is a pretty good connection to reality, right? Themes of oppression, corruption, slavery and rebellion are at the core of the story. It’s not your stereotypical dystopia – it is, though it is full of fantasy elements, one of the most realistic portrayals of world politics and shitty decisions of people in power I have ever read.

But that doesn’t make reading it hard or depressing – because it is just so, so, so funny! Just imagine, a tired snarky immortal correcting history books plus a sarcastic kick-ass teenage girl and a morally-grey overachieving boy with shitty life choices. You can imagine the conversations. I had my first huge experiences of sarcasm and ironic humor with reading these books and to say it bluntly I laughed my ass off.

But the heart of my love for these books probably is that I find myself in all of the protagonists, at different stages of my life. Wherever I am emotionally, I can find a connection. I can find myself.

In Bartimaeus, a djinni and a slave, who hopes and gives his all, though he doesn’t have to, who doesn’t give up on humanity though he wants to most of the time, who cracks so many jokes at the world’s end because there is always hope – or at least a last laugh.

In a "too powerful, too young" magician that started my love for anti-heroes. If I think of him, I think of redemption, of doing wrong things and right things, and at the end just trying my best. I think of the fight I put up against myself, the fight of not feeling loved and the feeling of always having to prove yourself, not only to others. In Kitty, a young member of the resistance movement who taught me to fight and to not give up even if I’m up against something I can not beat because you just have to try no matter what the chances are because the fight is necessary, even if it may get bloody.

In all the other characters losing their morality in their revenge, getting betrayed by their loyalty, trusting and using compassion as a weapon, or another one of thousand things, being nothing I taught they were at first.

This story taught me so many things. About failing myself and others, about losing and winning and sometimes not being able to say which is which. About the courage of kindness and compassion, love in unlikely places and how it is worth it despite the grief. About rebellion and that it is timeless and always on the way, and the power of ordinary people. About jokes and laughing, and how it can save you or at least make your day. About anger and that it is a weapon. About injustice, power and corruption and recognizing it in everyday life. About a thing that defines my all-the-time knowledge of other people – that bad things happening to someone may not excuse doing something shitty but that they can explain it. About helping each other, because only together we can save the world or at least the next day or the next person. About not being perfect but being good enough to change the world for the better, always.

I still tear up whenever I read the last page of Ptolemy’s Gate, the third and last book in the original Bartimaeus trilogy. Every emotion I had when I read it the first time, everything I feel now regarding the characters and the whole world Jonathan Stroud created… it’s too much and not enough at the same time. This is another thing Bartimaeus taught me – to love a bittersweet story. To love a story not for the candy-sweet happy ending, but for the tears I cried through the bittersweet last sentences. Because, at the end, that is what we have to love life for too. Not for the end of the road, but for the road. For the fight we put up. It is worth it. These books taught me to believe it. To find meaning in everything – in other stories as well as in the life outside of fiction.

There are so many stories I love with all of my heart, but this one opened my heart up and made me write and think and laugh and cry. I think what I really want to say is: thank you. Thank you to all the stories, especially this one, for keeping me alive and keeping me company, for helping me shape myself and giving me the anger and the heart to look at the world with courage. Thanks for giving me somewhere to land when I’m stranded, Jonathan Stroud – in your books I’m always able to find a home and a next you.

Sabine Mathiebe is a German book blogger and writer who posts reviews of books from fantasy to romance to new adult at Feel free to follow Sabine on Twitter at @s_mathiebe. I cannot thank Sabine enough for being a part of this series, and sharing a beautiful perspective on such a unique story!

The Power of Fiction is a guest blog series running alongside promotions for Fictitious, Lexi Vranick's fourth self-published title and second collection of poetry. Views of guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect Lexi Vranick's views. 

Each post will conclude with new information about Fictitious, which will be available on Amazon on April 24, 2018. This week, I'm pleased to share another selection from the book. I hope you enjoy ice dance., a poem inspired the 1990 film Edward Scissorhands. And please feel free to add Fictitious to your to-read shelf on Goodreads. If you are interested in becoming an early reviewer for Fictitious, please fill out this application.

ice dance.