Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mars Magic

Finally! The moment you've been waiting for! The latest installment of the Young Wizards series! There shouldn't be any spoilers below EXCEPT details concerning who is still alive at the beginning. If you've followed the series so far, these shouldn't come as any surprise to you. If, however, you are one or two books behind, it might take away some of the suspense.

And so, without further adieu...

A Wizard of Mars
~A Wizard of Mars~
Young Wizards Series
Book 9
By Diane Duane
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Earth has always had an interesting relationship with the red planet. Be it dreams of exploration and colonization, or nightmares of giant space-invaders, Mars seems to have always held a special (and frightening) place in our minds.

And we're not alone. Other species in our galaxy have felt this strange connection to Mars as well. But even their science is at a loss. Looks like it's up to wizards to find some answers.

Problem is, wizards have been looking for answers for over 200 years! And still nothing has surfaced to shed any enlightenment on the situation. Well, until now.

Nita, Kit and a few familiar faces are assigned to the Mars study team when a strange item is uncovered. Kit's been a little over-enthusiastic about Mars lately, and so wastes no time in doing a little...independent study. When the artifact suddenly releases a strange wizardry, it's up to Kit and his buddies to set things right before other, non-wizardly eyes see things they shouldn't.

Meanwhile, Nita's got some problems of her own. Dairine's been fired up ever since Roshaun vanished, traveling to Wellakh every chance she can, and it's starting to worry Nita and her dad. Then there's the training she's doing to try and hone her oracular powers, which is going just swimmingly, thank you very much. Oh, and Kit's constant trips to Mars are beginning to verge on obsessive, making Nita wonder if there's something more going on up there.

Sometimes it's a pain to be right.

We've been hearing about the Mars project for two books now (it was mentioned at the beginning of Wizard's Holiday), so it really shouldn't come as any surprise that the wizards have finally gotten around to it. However, I found the 'lead-up' to this to be a little...unnecessary. Wizards at War was very action-focused, and it felt like everything that had come before was building to that plot. Therefore, it's perfectly understandable that this book should experience a little drop-off in intensity. Trying to combat that with two-books-worth of anticipation just seemed to be a bit more of a let down.

However, where War was mostly action, Mars is primarily relationships. Yes, there's still a good bit of action, especially in the middle and end, but the main focus seems to be on Nita and Kit's partnership. Some of it is a re-hashing of what we saw in The Wizard's Dilemma, but now there's a little competition and jealousy mixed in, upping the stakes enough to make it fresh.

The supporting characters were a pleasure, as always. Ronan and Darryl in particular were great in their camaraderie and joking. S'reee was a little drier than I remembered, but Carmela's input balanced it out nicely. Even The Peridexis (now named 'Bobo') had a great sense of humor, which is impressive for a soulless entity. And best of all, the adults, while 'in charge', weren't the main actors in the conflict. There was enough interaction to get a sense of their personalities and power, but the main participants were still Kit, Nita and the other young wizards.

As an aside, one of the things that threw me was Dairine's age. Her dad specifically states that she is now, currently, 11. This puts her starting age (in High Wizardry) at either 9 or 10. And all the relationship stuff with Roshaun in the past two books at 11. Think about that for a sec...ruminate...and tell me if she acts anywhere near her age. Sorry, but I'd always pictured her as older...11 when starting out and 13 or 14 now. Her voice and personality just doesn't fit someone that young. Or, at least no one I've ever met. Maybe I'm just biased because I'm older...

The plot is fairly straight-forward, but the various theories cause a lot of curves and tangents. Nita's in the midst of learning more about wizardry in general, and so some of her research works its way into conversation. There's a portion where she and S'reee discuss wizards with elemental affinities (herself with water, Dairine with fire) seemingly without any definite conclusion, and then another time where she theorizes about Kit being a wizard who was born 'off-planet'. They work, but just barely.

Only major complaint I had was that it didn't focus at all on Roshaun. I sooo wanted that mystery to be cleared up—I mean, who wouldn't? I am, however, relieved that it wasn't tacked onto this story as well. The book was long and complicated enough with just Kit and Nita's story, I don't want to think about adding Dairine onto that as well. And, I figure her training will be necessary for future missions, so it's best to show it here instead of telling us about it later.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book. It had humor, relationships, action, and mystery. The characters were great, the story was clever, and, most importantly, it had a solid ending (yay no more cliffhangers!). While not nearly as action-packed as, say, Wizards at War, it still offers an exciting ride which should satisfy any fan of the series.

Approximate Reading Time: 10 Hours