R&R: Young Wizards by Diane Duane

Young Wizard Series
In Life’s name….

Dai’stihó cousins!

Welcome to my first installment of R&R: Reread and Review. This is where I reread some of my old favorite (or not so favorite) books, series, or authors, in order to expose them to a new audience, connect with current fans, as well as ask the basic question, does it hold up? If the answer is yes, then I’ll add it to my Check It Out page. Please keep in mind that this is just my opinion, and you’re free to have your own. I will also try my best to avoid major spoilers for the books and series I review.

My first R&R is a series that I’ve been fond of for years— the Young Wizard series by Diane Duane. The first book, So You Want to be a Wizard was released in 1983. Deep Wizardry followed in 1985, High Wizardry in 1990, A Wizard Abroad in 1993, The Wizard’s Dilemma  in 2001, A Wizard Alone in 2002, Wizard’s Holiday in 2003, Wizards at War in 2005, A Wizard of Mars in 2010, and finally Games Wizards Play in 2016.

There’s also Interim Errantry which is a collection of three short stories released in 2015, along with the On Ordeal series, the Feline wizards books, and a few other short online stories. For this R&R I will be focusing on the printed Young Wizard series with the older editions.

I was first introduced to the series back in high school. One of my best friends had Wizard’s Holiday, and let me borrow it. I was rather confused at first because jumping into the series is a little bit like jumping into the middle of Harry Potter— so be warned if you attempt to do the same. You might be able to follow the main characters and basic story, but you’re missing out on a lot of context. I still enjoyed it enough that I ended up reading my way through the entire series. When the next book, Wizards at War, came out, I bought it right away. Then I waited for the next book, Wizards at War to be released.

And waited.

And waited.

And eventually got busy with life and college. I never forgot about the series, just stopped checking for news and updates. That was until earlier this year I was going through my books and rediscovered the series. I was pleasantly surprised to find not only one new novel had come out since I last read the series, but two new novels with an anthology collection of short stories. It took me about two weeks to get through the entire series, including the new books.

The two main characters are Juanita ‘Nita’ Callahan, and Christopher ‘Kit’ Rodriguez. The first book starts out with them being in Jr. High and coming across books, or Manuals, that contain the Wizard’s Oath. Upon taking the Oath they’re offered wizardry by the Powers that Be (who are alluded to be saints/gods from various mythologies). The caveat is that it comes with a cost— the power must be used responsibly to fight the Lone Power (who’s alluded to be the the fallen archangel Lucifer in one incarnation), and his ‘gift’ of Entropy and Death. If they misuse wizardry there’s a chance they could lose it, and damage the universe in the process, speeding up Entropy.

The first two books stay on Earth, dealing with local problems caused by the Lone Power, also referred to as It, for Nita and Kit to deal with. After that, the series takes on a more sci-fi tone, going to other planets, meeting aliens, and soon Nita and Kit have a bunch of supporting characters— some fellow wizards (most of which aren’t human) and some non-wizard characters (who are mostly human). As the series progresses, foreshadowing is gradually sprinkled throughout the books setting up future story lines and plot points.

The Good
Magic, or wizardry as it’s called in the books, is portrayed differently from other magic systems I see in fantasy series. A character is not born with power, but is offered it, and must go on an Ordeal to prove they’re worthy of such power. Even if they survive and pass the Ordeal (it’s heavily implied this isn’t always the case, a dark image considering that wizardry is usually offered at a young age), they must continue to use it in a responsible manner.

There’s also the way wizardry is performed. Wizards have to use the universal language known as the Speech, but don’t wave a wand while saying the words. Instead they combine symbols in a diagram, specifically spelling out what needs to be done. The way wizardry is practiced in the books reminds me a lot of writing software or equations in a computer program. You have to know exactly the right symbols and put them in the right order to accomplish your goal.

The series is similar to Harry Potter in the sense that they both start out with young characters being introduced into a magical world hidden among everyday society, and have a clear villain they must face. Then, like Harry Potter, the characters grow and mature over the series, the conflicts become darker and more grown-up matching the characters’ progression. Darker themes include losing a love one to cancer, dealing with grief and depression over the lost, forgiveness and second chances, and realizing that sometimes the evil you face isn’t as black and white as it was when you’re a child.

The characters are enjoyable as well. While there are couples and relationships to root for, the characters involved don’t grow straight to being a couple and there are no cases of instant love. They start off as friends, and in some cases less than friends, but through experience and time grow closer. There is really only one love triangle in the series, but it’s not a major conflict. Even when it’s resolved, the character remains in the series as a side character who offers support and remains on friendly terms with other characters. For the most part side characters are not just cardboard cut-outs, but have their own personalities and issues. Over the course of the series, don’t be surprised if you fall in love with a shark, a black hole, a centipede-like creature, or a tree.

In addition, the books don’t keep the parents of Kit and Nita in the dark for long regarding their children’s new found powers. It’s a common trope when teens get supernatural or magical powers, they start living double lives, or the parents simply don’t appear. Caring parents would naturally put a stop to their children going on dangerous adventures every few months. However, wizards are encouraged to tell the truth because telling a lie, especially in the Speech, can be dangerous. Their parents are less than happy with the information, but eventually come around and remain supporting characters throughout the rest of the series; they’re not sidelined for simply being normal.

The Not So Good
I realize that it may seem like I’ve done nothing but gush about the series, but there are some aspects of the series that aren’t that great. Nothing major, just a few small issues that detract from the series.

For all the comparisons you can make to Harry Potter, the first four books in Young Wizards were released before the first Harry Potter book even was, and the latest book was released in 2016. Because of the huge release span with the books, there are inconsistencies with the timeline, pop culture references, and technology the characters are using. To fix these issues, book editions published since 2012 are part of the The New Millennium Edition, or NME. Other changes were made to the NME as well, but I’ve read the older ones and can’t not say if they’re better or worse than the older editions. If you’re just getting into the series, you might want to check out the NME for consistency, or keep it in mind should you read the older editions.

There’s a few other inconsistencies that can’t solved by simply fixing the timeline. In the first few books spells require not just the write words or diagram, but the occasional odd piece of junk such as a rubber band, a random screw, etc. to plug into the spell and give it energy. This is pretty much dropped in later books with spells relying more heavily on the power of the user and spell diagram than random objects. It can be a bit off putting if you read the series straight through at once, but isn’t a major issue that makes the series unreadable.

Some fans of the series do take issue with some of the side characters and story lines, especially in the later books. While I can see their point of view, I don’t agree with them completely. I definitely have less than favorite plot lines and books (looking at you Wizards of Mars) but my gripes and complaints of the series overall are minimal.

Does The Series Hold Up?
You bet. Despite my complaints— which are nitpicks really— I still love the series after all these years. The magic system is different from what I usually see, the characters are refreshing compared to other fantasy/supernatural/science fiction series out there, and the books are well-written. They’re definitely going on my Check It Out page. If they sound interesting to you, I highly recommend giving the first few books a try.

For more information, please check out the Young Wizards‘ official website or Diane Duane’s website.

Have you too read the Wizard’s Oath aloud only to still be waiting on undergoing your Ordeal? Agree or disagree with my review? Feel like checking out the series? Let me know below!

Next month: A book that’s perfect to read right around Halloween.

—Kay S. Beckett

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