The Amulet of Samarkand
This book is excellent! Great for adult readers of fantasy as well as kids--although one protagonist is 12, the other is a magical entity thousands of years old, and the politics of The Amulet of Samarkand are subtle and complex.
Those folks following my current work-in-progress won't be surprised to hear I've been itching for some fantasy that confronts the problem of monarchy/aristocracy; this book was actually recommended to me by a friend who described it as "Harry Potter but what if the author was aware that the magicians' whole society was fucked up." Which is an accurate elevator pitch, and extremely my jam. Stroud explores questions of power and control from multiple angles--magicians over non-magical humans, magicians over magical creatures, strong magical creatures over weak magical creatures, the violent over the peaceful, social structures over the individual.
All in a rollicking adventure story with plenty of spells, incantations, amulets, shapeshifting, monologuing villains, plucky youths, and dramatic showdowns--plus historical references and footnotes! And the characters are funny, pretty nuanced for YA, well-realized, and morally complicated. Could have used more Actual Samarkand--the story is very British. But overall, a joy. I'm really looking forward to reading the sequel.