book review: luka and the fire of life

Luka and the Fire of Life is Salman Rushdie’s sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a book I will forever love. Maybe it’s just the glasses of nostalgia looking back at Haroun, giving it more depth than there actually was, but Luka fell a little flat.

There’s still a lot of great language-play going on, and Rushdie is doing his old-school storytelling thing here, which is great. The world of magic that was supposed to be so rich with all the things implied about its vast history was actually rather small and curtailed.

Rushdie also used a video-game device of having extra lives and save points that I understand were an attempt to modernize the tale, to differentiate it from the pre-digital age Haroun, but it felt tacked on and misunderstood and a poor fit for the old-school storytelling on display. In Scott Pilgrim coins popping out of people after he defeats them in a fight works, here the grabbing of hundreds of extra lives at a time seemed to misunderstand the logic behind videogames entirely. I may have complained about Ready Player One being a bit too nerd-pandering, but this is what that feels like when done badly I think.

They also did the whole skipping a bunch of levels in the quest thing, which I’ve seen done more cleverly in Un Lun Dun (and possibly a Neil Gaiman story or two?).

But that’s what I didn’t like and the rest of the book was pretty good. I already mentioned the exuberant language. I loved the Insultana of Over The Top (and could have used more examples of her insults before they soften a bit towards Luka). The use of so many different deities cross-pollinating the World of Magic was great, and Luka’s big speech near the end was wonderful.

Overall I liked the book, but I’d recommend Haroun and the Sea of Stories much more highly.

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