Eight Days of Luke
by Diana Wynne Jones
I liked this book, but I can't recommend it quite as highly as DWJ's other books.
The main character is an orphaned boarding-school boy named David who, like Harry Potter, doesn't look forward to his school holidays. For he is forced to spend them with his very nasty Great-Aunt Dot, Great-Uncle Bernard, Cousin Ronald and Ronald's wife Astrid. You know right on the spot that he's going to have a hellish holiday because when he arrives home, by train and bus, no one even pretends to be glad to see him. In fact, they seem very put out, pretending that they didn't expect him for another week, and blaming him for spoiling their own vacation plans.
David isn't allowed to go where he pleases, he is sniped at for outgrowing his old clothes, every penny he costs these people is begrudged, everything he does or every mess he makes is turned against him by a hateful serving woman who cooks nearly inedible meals and whose only joy in life, seemingly, is getting David in trouble. It's another nearly ridiculous, but mostly sad portrait of a decent kid growing up without love.
Finally, pushed too far, David decides to put a curse on his family, but he has to improvise at that, and what he ends up doing in fact, is letting a mysteriouis boy named Luke out of some kind of prison. Luke appears to be about David's age, but there's more to him than meets the eye. Full of mischief, with a seemingly magical ability to control fire, and a disturbing lack of conscience though he is charming, Luke looks like the sort of friend who promises to get David in trouble. He's not the invisible friend type of friend-others can see him, and everyone likes him-but he's just not normal.
Then even stranger people start showing up, one day after another: the burly & frightening Mr. Chew who sharply questions David about Luke's whereabouts; the smooth and charming Mr. Wedding who challenges David first to try to keep him from finding Luke, then to prove Luke's innocence; a merry sandy-haired fellow who seems to think Luke stole something from him; and a couple named the Fry's who have everyone under their spell, but who apparently want to send Luke back to prison for at least another thousand years. And we're talking the sort of prison where giant snakes drip venom on you and you have to catch the venom in a bowl to keep from being poisoned. To keep Luke from being sent back there, David has only a couple of days to find an object someone has stolen-but he can only find it as long as he doesn't know what it was, or who really stole it.
For the portrait of a boy being misused by his worthless relatives, I thought Eight Days of Luke was a good story. The rest of the story, though adventurous and strange and full of mystery and danger, ended up being a very thin allegory-no, not even that-of Norse gods like Thor and Woden. Basically silly and pointless, from my point of view. The most entertaining parts are where the two story-lines intertwine and impinge off each other. The fact that Norse gods are involved does add an otherworldly aspect to the adventure-like a mythic quest strangely woven into a modern family drama. It's an idea that might have worked better, or maybe it will work for you; but for reasons I cannot quite pin down, I wasn't really satisfied.
Recommended Age: 14+
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