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A-Luka and the Fire of LifeSalman Rushdie wrote his first children's book, the fantastical Haroun and the Sea of Stories, for his eldest son just following the declaration of Khomeini's fatwa. Now, 20 years later, Luka and the Fire of Life, dedicated to his youngest son, returns to the land of Alifbay--but updates the young hero's adventures for the 21st century.

The Story: When Rashid Khalifa, the famed storyteller in the city of Kahana, falls into a such a deep sleep that he cannot awaken, his 12-year-old son, Luka (Haroun's younger brother), determines to save him from impending death. Along with his pet dog and bear, Luka is whisked away to the enchanted Magic World, where he hopes to steal the Fire of Life that can save his father. All sorts of dangers, adventures, and fantastical creatures await--from the Elephant Birds to the Insultana of Ott and her flying carpet, the Badly Behaved Gods, a city of rats, and, of course, the world of video games. When Luka finally reaches the Mountain of Knowledge, with the shimmering fire on top, he must complete his seemingly impossible task.
Random House. 224 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780679463368

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Rushdie may do bombast (The Ground Beneath Her Feet) and he may do overwritten (The Enchantress of Florence), but he does not do boring, and he knows his way around a good almost-myth. ... The story is in the why and the how, and it is well worth reading." Jon Fasman

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Luckily and cannily, Salman Rushdie knows how to spin a great yarn in this follow-up to Haroun and the Sea of Stories. He's such a good writer that he can convince you of anything as his imagination spins, swerves and leads the reader into wilder, stranger territory than the realm of ordinary, everyday tribulations." Sam Coale

Globe and Mail (Canada) 3 of 5 Stars
"Luka spends a lot of time checking his life-count, wondering if he's collected enough to get through and, accordingly, the perils he encounters feel less urgent. ... The lingering question raised by this recurring deus ex poppa is whether Luka truly grows beyond his father's own authority as storyteller. Luka sets out to steal the Fire of Life, but one wishes to see him steal a little more of his father's thunder." Thomas Wharton

Onion AV Club 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Too often, the story feels like Rushdie is vamping for time, as Luka's journey lacks the cumulative nature a great quest story needs. But that doesn't make the jokes less funny, or the characters less charming." Zack Handlen

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 of 5 Stars
"[A] surprisingly slight effort from this serious writer. ... The India native creates his brand of bastardized magic, a hodgepodge of what Mr. Rushdie hopes are clever references to mythology, folklore and popular culture, showing off his erudition like a playground athlete demonstrating a jump shot over and over again until somebody says, ‘Nice one.'" Bob Hoover

Critical Summary

Luka and the Fire of Life is Rushdie lite, to be sure, but that didn't detract from many critics' enjoyment of the novel. A classic fairy tale and quest story, with Alice-in-Wonderland-like twists and turns thrown in, the novel delighted many readers with its witty wordplay, its conglomeration of myths and story-worlds, and its charming characters. But this being Rushdie, little is conventional, and he uses the logic of video games to tell his tale--Luka must collect enough lives to survive different "levels" on the way to the Fire of Life. "It works better than it has any right to," said the Onion AV Club, though others disagreed. Other criticism included a lack of focus and a showoff quality to the novel. Readers old and young who enjoyed Haroun, however, will be certain to enjoy Luka.