There are a lot of great young adult books being published these days and a lot of big name authors are trying to tap into this lucrative demographic. However, Salman Rushdie had a more personal motivation behind Luka and the Fire of Life, his second YA novel. Published in 1990, Haroun and the Sea of Stories was written for Rushdie’s first son. Twenty years later, Rushdie had another young son asking for a book of his own so the author returned to the world he created in Haroun. In the book, young Luka has heard all about the adventures of his older brother Haroun and yearns for a story of his own. When the boys’ father falls into a magical coma, Luka sets off on a quest to wake him.
Much of Rushdie’s fame comes from the controversy surrounding his novel The Satanic Verses. The fatwa and assassination attempts sometimes overshadow how much fun his writing can be. Luka is a celebration of the power and joy of storytelling and the book is crammed full of wordplay and whimsy. Luka’s compatriots include a dancing bear named Dog, a singing dog named Bear, and the Insultana of Ott, the young queen of a people who take such innocent joy in insulting everyone that no one really takes much offence. At one point, the whole group pauses in their quest to watch Aphrodite best Freya in the daily gladiatorial battle of forgotten goddesses a beauty.
Luka is worlds away from the brooding angst of Twilight or the grim politics of The Hunger Games. Neil Gaiman’s books provide better reference points, with either the surreal imagery of Coraline or the mix-and-match mythology of American Gods. Rushdie’s infectious glee will likely appeal to fans of The Phantom Tollbooth.
~Andrew, Adult Services