Young Wizards Books 6 and 7

It’s been a couple years since I last looked at Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series.  These were my favorite books as a kid, but my reaction as an adult is more mixed. I love that its magic feels more like science or computer programming than hand-waving, but this rational system is overshadowed by a kiddy-New- Age theology in which gods micromanage our lives and a loving universe wants Life to win out. Overall I enjoyed the books, though they don’t feel quite as polished as the biggest YA books being written today.

I only had the first three books when I was young, but I tried volumes six and seven a few months ago. Here are my reviews.

A Wizard Alone cover

Diane Duane – A Wizard Alone

A Wizard Alone

This introduces another new frontier for heros Nita and Kit: The tortured dreamspace of Darryl, an autistic boy who has been trapped within himself ever since becoming a wizard a few months ago. They have to figure out what happened and understand this boy’s special role in the battle between good and evil. The internal mazes constructed by autistic logic provide a new sort of threat, and the main subplot is about Nita dealing with some grief of her own.

When this book was written in 2002, most of Duane’s readers probably didn’t know what autism was. This was intended to be a sensitive explanation of the child’s special needs and enduring humanity. A decade later, though, popular understanding has increased and the book’s explanation feels strange and fumbling. Trying to follow the novel’s logic, I was left with a vague impression that this was some sort of disease that had flared up within Darryl, and that he could overcome with enough self-control and awareness. It would have felt much less weird if this were a fantastical magic disease.

Despite that, A Wizard Alone was light, pleasant, but difficult for me to remember too much about even a few months later. There’s no reason to avoid it if you’re reading through the series, but this book isn’t one of the ones that will draw you in.

Grade: C+

Wizard's Holiday cover

Diane Duane – Wizard’s Holiday

Wizard’s Holiday

Just when I was starting to wonder if Young Wizards was still worth reading, especially with all the great modern YA fantasy out there, I got to Wizard’s Holiday. This book demonstrates the series’ strengths. And surprisingly, it’s not the “computer programming” magic that I usually point to. This is a slow, quiet book about people and their relationships, and it feels like a good payoff for the couple thousand pages that came before.

At the start, the series was all about Nita and Kit. Their social and school life was nearly nonexistent, and their families mainly popped up during the parts of the books when the latest magical quest was on hold. In this one, though, supporting characters take center stage. Nita and Kit go off on an “exchange” program across the universe, while their families host alien wizards in return. The book is split between two worlds, and the Earth plots move along just fine without Nita or Kit. Their families went through a lot over the first six books, good and bad, as well as simply changing because time had passed. I didn’t realize just how naturally they had been evolving until Wizard’s Holiday gave them so much time. It’s the kind of experience you can only get from following a series over years, but that’s rare even then.

This book exhibits some of the series’ flaws, too. The alien cultures and rules seemed plucked from a collection of clichés. There’s no real evidence that their existence could have the nuance or believability of the human lives shown here. Also, Nita and Kit’s subplot feels a little off. The world they visit is a perfect paradise on the surface, but they quickly realize that the inhabitants’ safe lives are actually bereft of meaning. It’s a fine plot idea that works well with Nita and Kit’s personal growth, but the book never demonstrates the problem convincingly. It actually does seem like a pretty nice paradise, and the alleged problems are shoe-horned in.

Still, I really enjoyed this quiet story. The conflicts on both planets have more to do with good guys learning to work with each other than with actual confrontation, and the portrayals of the characters fit in with the series’ theme that magic is there to support life. Duane covers all her bases, though, and reminds us that this is just one of the styles she writes in. The next novel is called Wizards at War, and should be the opposite of the quiet vacation here.

Wizard’s Holiday is far from perfect, but it guaranteed that I’ll stick with this series for the long run. Young Wizards has its ups and downs – I am amazed by the variety of grades I’ve given the books so far – but the world it has built is definitely worth returning to.

Grade: B

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