Friday, September 25, 2015

Retro Friday Review: Eight Days of Luke

by Diana Wynne Jones

Retro Friday Introduction:

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie @ Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be a favourite, an under the radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print etc.

Recently I've been on a bit of a Diana Wynne Jones kick (see my other recent reviews Archer's Goon and The Magicians of Caprona). She's one of my favourite authors, and there are few who I enjoy re-reading as much as her. I haven't read Eight Days of Luke since the first time back in October 2008,  so it was interesting to see how my perspectives did and didn't change since then.

Story summary: David has nasty, horrible relatives (they're almost as bad as the Dursleys), and a unpleasant, boring life. But one day, after uttering a curse in a fit of anger against their cruelty, he meets a strange young boy with red hair and a strange affinity for flames. Luke does not follow the same rules as other people, and with his presence comes a sinister neighbour with a missing eye, ravens that can speak, and lots and lots of fire.

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • Loki!*
  • Other Norse mythology!
  • Cruel relatives to be quietly defied, strange boys to be befriended, quests for unknown objects hidden in unknown places by unknown persons, and lots and lots of fire.

And Why You Might Not:
  • Not enough Loki!
  • Not enough other Norse mythology!
  • (Ok, there's quite a bit in there. I just meant that I wish there were a few more really cool mythological scenes.)
  • It's a little less complex than some of her other books.

Thoughts: I really, really love mythological retellings, stories about gods in modern day life, that sort of thing. It's actually how I first got into Diana Wynne Jones, with a gods-in-modern-day book called The Game. And although I enjoyed reading about David's struggles against his horrible relatives, and the eventual redemption of Astrid, and all the normal-life parts, I don't think I would have thought this book was anything to write home about if it wasn't for the amazing little moments when Luke was particularly Loki-like and the delight of trying to match characters and events with their mythological counterparts. (Also a shoutout to her version of Thor, who is great, though not used enough. I have always had a special affection for Thor, in a similar fashion to my affection for Gawain in the King Arthur stories. They are always my favourite characters no matter what the retelling, and if they are portrayed as stupid or evil, I will generally not like the retelling as a whole.)

Coming up on the heels of re-reviewing Archer's Goon, it's interesting to compare the two books, because both of these are about family in the end. This one, however, has slightly simpler and less complex familial relationships, as well as a simpler plot. More of the family is stupid and cruel without being interesting, unlike Archer, Shine, etc., and there isn't any reconciliations quite as moving as Torquil/Hathaway or Erskine/Venturus. (David's realization of how he misjudged Astrid was lovely, though.) And despite, as I mentioned above, the quest for an unknown object hidden in an unknown place by an unknown person, there's nothing quite like the chaos and interconnected plot lines of Archer's Goon.

It's also interesting to compare my first review with my thoughts now, seven years later. I remember greatly enjoying it, although I was slightly put off by the fact that Astrid left her husband. With the perspective given by age, this really doesn't bother me anymore, as the abuse she received made it totally non-objectionable. I also found it less confusing, but also less fascinating than last time. I no longer thought the ending too abrupt, although I wished it could have had more cool and haunting Loki bits.

Some other mythological retellings I have enjoyed:
  • The Lightning Thief, and all of Rick Riordan's books (he has a new Norse series coming out shortly!). Hilarious and entertaining.
  • The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams. Sequel to Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, which is also hilarious but not mythological. TLDTTotS is a very strange book, and I don't think it's the best of Adams' work, but I loved it all the same. The Norse mythology was probably a big part of that.
  • Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. Brilliant retelling of Cupid and Psyche. Read it. Also with this I'm going to mention Lewis's unfinished retelling of the Trojan war, "After Ten Years", which is included in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. It had such enourmous potential to be as amazing a book as TWHF; I was so sad he never finished it.
  • The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell. Part "Hades & Persephone", part "Beauty & the Beast", part "Twelve Dancing Princesses", but very Medieval and unique.

Grade: 4 stars

*I suppose a spoiler, but I also think this book is a lot better if you know what you're getting into.

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