The Eighth Day, by Dianne K. Salerni (HarperCollins, middle grade, April 22, 2014)
Basic premise: 13-year-old kid with new-found powers finds himself a key player in an ancient magical war.
Basic reaction: Fun, fast, gripping, lots of interesting twists.
Jax's life pretty much sucks. His parents are dead, and his guardian, Riley, is an 18-year old who is failing to provide much in the way of creature comforts, cleanliness, and food. And then Jax wakes up on the morning of his 13th birthday to find himself in a world
seemingly devoid of people. He has found himself in an eighth day, squeezed
between Wednesday and Thursday.
But though, on the eighth day, houses are abandoned and cars sit empty on the highways, Jax is not alone--also awake on this eighth day are the descendants of the two sides in an ancient war. One one side, there are the heirs to the magic of Merlin, King Arthur and the knights of the round-table. On the other side are the Kin, magic-users who were imprisoned by the creation of the eighth day millenia ago. Jax is a descendant of the former side, heir to magical powers of his own. And the war is still going strong...
Jax, along with Evangeline (the mysterious girl next door, alive only on the eighth day) find themselves facing choices that may lead to the destruction of all normal people. Jax's newly emerged powers are of little use, but fortunately Riley and Evangeline are much more complicated than they first appear....
I enjoyed it lots. The basic premise of the eighth day was tremendously diverting, and helped make the "kid developing magical powers on his birthday" plot interesting. There's some nice obfuscation of the good guy/bad guy dynamic, with some characters in the gray area between, and some uncertainty about whether what the good guys are doing is, in fact, good. Nicely complicated! I liked that older characters (Riley and Evangeline, in their late teens) do most of the heavy lifting viz adversary confronting, because I prefer kids with new found powers to be realistically challenged by the difficult situations in which they find themselves.
My favorite part of the book, though, was not the larger set up with all its dangers and plottings, but the relationship between Evangeline and Jax, which is poignant, fascinating, and thought-provoking (I could have happily read a whole book just about that!). And I liked the relationship between Jax and Riley too--it ended up going to places I never expected.
This is one to give the young fan of Rick Riordan's books-real world meeting fantasy in a complicated snarl of mythology-inspired story. The love interests that appear in the later Percy Jackson books aren't here (yet), though, so it is very much for the middle grade reader, as opposed to the teenager. That being said, this one is not exactly wish-fulfillment fantasy, and there's a touch of real world grittiness in Jax's home life and in the actions of some of the secondary characters--it is not rainbow unicorns and great Heroics, and the magical fun is slow to really get going. Which means it will appeal more to some readers and less to others...maybe, now that I am thinking about it more, it will appeal most to the kid who almost loved the Percy Jackson books but didn't quite. I think the cover will do a good job helping the book find the right kids, what with its urban sci fi look, and nary a rainbow unicorn in sight!
I myself am looking forward to the sequel (The Inquisitor's Mark, coming next January) very much.