Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Eight Days With Diana

I'm a bit of an anomaly when it comes to reading "modern" fantasy. This stems from the fact that I find most modern fantasy the equivalent of a pretty shell that's hollow underneath the surface. Something that has a flowery description on the back of the book, a cool cover, and a lot of flash in the characters and plot turns, and has at least one of my friends always raving. Looks cool at first sight. But once you get into the thick of it you realize-- there's nothing really there outside of the quirk and flash. This coincides with the fact that most modern fantasy stories are forgotten rather quickly after release when they are hyped up like mad when they first come out. Think about the classic (or just great) fantasy stories of the past ten years and you'll find the list rather short outside of one very obvious boy wizard and a small handful of others.

To be honest,despite the fact that Diana Wynne Jones wrote Howl's Moving Castle (one of the best modern fantasy stories) I was worried that her book, Eight Days of Luke, would be just like these modern stories. This despite the fact that the book was written in the early '70s when fantasy was still a force to be reckoned with. I've just grown very suspicious of the genre, I guess. But I had seen far too many positive remarks about this book to just cosign it to the "modern fantasy" pile, not to mention the author was one of the best in her field. Since I received it for a Christmas present, I decided to give it a chance anyway. No sense ignoring it further.

Eight Days of Luke starts like the best modern fantasy stories do-- a young boy mistreated by his family goes off and stumbles into a fantastical event that pulls him in. Young David Allard is living with his relations who don't appreciate him much at all. One day he accidentally says the magic words to unleash a laughing boy with a strange affinity for flames named Luke from his prison. The two become fast friends and eventually it comes to David to fight to keep it that way when other strange characters show up looking for his friend.

The story never wavers from this and is all the better for it.

How the story really works is that it never loses sight of the characters. It takes place over eight days where we center around David's family and learn more about Luke and the strange people who are looking for him. While we slowly find out who these pursuers are and what they want with Luke, we also learn more about David and his relationship with his family who are all given chances to grow themselves. It would be so easy for the family to stay as cardboard cutout villains, but they don't-- and even David begins to wonder if he really has it that bad. One family member even turns out to be an invaluable friend. But of course, some choose to wallow in their own vices despite being given the chance for something better.

David's small world in his house and with his hobbies is soon tested as well, as he is forced out into the world to help his friend and pushes himself to do things he would never have considered otherwise. All to save his friend. He even finds backup himself as he makes new friends and discovers that the world is a far different place outside than in his cramped home. During his adventure, he grows and learns.

Of course, not everyone grows, but that's life. By the end of the story, not only has David learned much about Luke and those who were trying to find him, but also about the world and himself at the same time.

Eight Days of Luke is a great read both for kids and for those who enjoy a good fantasy story, modern or not. A story of friendship and real family wrapped in fantasy, the genre was made for stories like this. Diana Wynne Jones hits out of the park yet again. If you have any interest in fantasy, give it a go.

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