Diana Wynne Jones’ 1975 Eight Days of Luke is a standalone young-adult fantasy.
Orphan David Allard is a lucky boy, or so his guardians — Uncle Bernard, and Aunt Dot — assure him. After all, they took him in when they could have dumped him in an orphanage. They’d let him live with their family (uncle, aunt, cousins Ronald and Astrid) … intermittently, that is. Most of the time he is packed off to one boarding school or another.
David returns from boarding school a week early, which throws the family’s plans into chaos. The results are life-changing.
As far as his relatives are concerned, David is best endured when he is not there. David’s preferences weigh not a whit. Enraged at this heartless treatment, David childishly tries to curse his relatives, using made-up words in the hope that some of them will fortuitously turn out to be Words of Power. It’s a foolish fantasy, or so it seems.
In fact, David’s words were the exact opposite of a curse. They have sent him a friend, the mysterious Luke. Luke tells David that his childish chant was exactly what was needed to free Luke from an otherworldly prison. Who Luke is, why he was imprisoned, who imprisoned Luke — all those are questions Luke is not inclined to answer. What he is willing to do is be David’s friend, something David desperately needs.
Whither goes Luke, thither goes chaos. Luke has a strong sense of humour and little interest in restraining it. Burning meals? Burning entire buildings? A joke is a joke to Luke. David’s life becomes far more interesting as he becomes the only curb on Luke’s jokes.
Luke’s absence from his cell has not gone unnoticed. In short order, David’s neighbourhood fills with strangers who are not what they seem: the burly Mr. Chew, Mr. and Mrs. Frey, the mysterious ginger-haired man, and of course the well-informed Mr. Wedding. Luke is cunning and can elude them. Not so the very mortal David…
I don’t want to spoil the book but for readers familiar with it :
Jura Ze. Jrqqvat fnlf “Ohg abj, gunaxf gb Qnivq, jr’yy unir bhe shyy fgeratgu sbe gur svany onggyr,” qvq nalbar ryfr trg gur srryvat gung Entanebx znl or vzzvarag?
I wonder: if one looked on J. K. Rowling’s bookshelves, would one find a copy of this book? Not that David is Harry Potter, even if he is a boy who survived, and even if he does manage to work a little magic now and then. But David’s abusive, exploitative relatives would certainly agree with the Dursleys that orphans are a bother.
One of David’s relatives, Astrid, goes from off-handedly picking on him to allying with him. The speed at which this change of heart happens seemed a bit abrupt (it is founded in her sudden realization that both she and David are victims of her relatives). The alliance works out well for Astrid. Not so well for Uncle Bernard, Cousin Ronald, and Aunt Dot.
This is an early Jones, so there are some rough spots. The sudden revelation concerning Uncle Bernard and Cousin Ronald at the end of the book isn’t implausible, given their characters, but rather sudden.. However, I was struck by Jones’s restraint in NOT giving David unexpected, vast magical powers. This isn’t quite Jones at her best, but it’s a sign that she will go on to write better books.