Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Wizard's Dilemma makes A Wizard Alone

Here again are the next two installments of the Young Wizards series. It's extremely difficult to keep spoilers out of the summaries and reviews, but I will do my best. Though, again, as far as who's still alive in each book...

If you still haven't finished any previous book and you DON'T want to know who's still alive and who isn't, DO NOT READ ON!

Also, if the 4th book was any indication, the series has made the transition from MG to YA. Starting in the next books, the situations are going to get more intense and a little less MG-friendly. Then again, if your MG reader has been keeping pace (and made it through book 4 without any gags), I don't think these are too far out of range. Language and 'adult content' are still within an 'advanced' MG reader's grasp, but some of the magical theory and relationships (the characters have moved into highschool) might negate their interest.

But, without further adieu...

The Wizard's Dilemma
~The Wizard's Dilemma~
Young Wizards Series
Book 5
By Diane Duane
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Nita's having some problems.

First, she's started high school, and while she's still considered brainy, her subjects aren't coming as easily to her as they used to. She's starting to feel kinda inadequate next to Kit, who, though a year younger, is still breezing through everything.

Going along with that, she's not quite sure what to do about Kit. Their partnership is hitting some rough water, and she can't understand how he can insist on being so...wrong! It's affecting their friendship and their wizardry, and she's not quite sure which is worse.

Finally, there's her mom. She's sick. Real sick. Sick enough that the doctors aren't too hopeful. But Nita knows things doctors don't, and can do things they can't. Most of all, Nita knows exactly Who's fault this is.

Now it's personal.

But with so much doubt in herself, Kit being uncooperative, and her mom's life at stake, can Nita find a cure in time? Or might she have to make a deal with that One she's devoted her life to fighting?

I cried a LOT in this book. When Nita's mom first gets sick. When they first visit the hospital. When Dairine breaks down. When Nita breaks down. And more. Just the thought of losing my own that... I'm warning you, there is a lot of realistic emotional distress here, for realistic reasons, and if your family or friends have experienced anything similar, it might hit even harder.

I found this book a lot more engaging than the last. Nita and Kit are back in the forefront of things. In fact, Kit gets his own share of narration, like Dairine did in High Wizardry. Though Nita is still in charge of the main plot, having Kit's side of things helps not only soften the blow of Nita's despair but also provides more insight into our co-main character which we have been so sorely lacking before now.

It's been really easy for me to forget how young these characters really are. I think in book one Nita was 12 and Kit was 11; here, Nita is 14 and Kit is 13. This is the first time I found them acting their ages consistently throughout the book. Yes, they're both dealing with magical responsibilities and situations well above a 'normal' teenager, but their internal and personal struggles finally feel real. Not to say the other books lacked for it, but it definitely set this one apart in a good way.

As far as complexity goes, this installment has its fair share of advanced content. Nita's attempt to help her mom requires experience and practice in a field she hasn't yet acquired, so she's sent to train in 'practice universes', where the natural or physical laws aren't quite as solid as in our universe. Tom and Carl get into some technobabble when trying to explain these, but Nita manages to translate things well enough for the reader. It's complex, but engaging at the same time.

If you managed to make it through book 4, this one is definitely worth the struggle. It's longer, and you might have to take a couple breaks to dry your eyes (luckily, I had the audiobook going through the tears), but you're compelled through it, even from the first page where Nita and her mom are engaged in a completely relatable conversation. If you care about the characters, which by this point it's practically impossible not to be, you'll read this book with a fervor.

Approximate Reading Time: 5.5 Hours

A Wizard Alone
~A Wizard Alone~
Young Wizards Series
Book 6
By Diane Duane
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

It's been a few months since the events in the last book, and Nita's still not fully recovered. I mean, when you've been through what she has, who could blame her?

Kit certainly doesn't. But life must go on, and a wizard's work is never done. Kit's been asked by Tom and Carl if he can look into another wizard's Ordeal. Normally it's not wise to interfere with the initial test, but Darryl's case is far from normal.

First off, he's been on Ordeal for over three months now. Usually combating the Lone Power is either won or lost in a matter of days. What in the world could be taking three months to accomplish?

But Kit soon finds that Darryl's problem doesn't necessarily lie in this world, and the world it does reside in, one shaped and twisted by autism, isn't easily traversed alone. And if he's not careful, he might just end up trapped there. Alone.

I found this one a little less compelling than the last, if only because there was more of a mystery about things rather than a straight-forward action-packed mission. Nita and Kit are both unsure of themselves, of what they're doing and then how to do it. There's a lot of probing and research involved rather than running in with guns blazing, which is understandable.

Kit takes the forefront of the plot this time around. With he and Nita again being split up for the majority of the time, the divided narration is a useful tool. Kit provides the majority of the action (though, it's more of a hunt than a chase), while Nita takes the more subtle inner feelings side of things. Of course, as the plot speeds up, both characters have their fair share of action.

Complexity-wise, the story and techobabble aren't very hard at all. The most complex idea has to be autism, which is presented and described in a way that's extremely easy to grasp. We're shown how Darryl thinks, how he processes things, what life is like to him, but at the same time we're given some facts about it so that we understand not to generalize the condition. In a field with so many questions and not very many answers, this book handles the subject with tact and respect, while interweaving creativity and art.

Ultimately, this book may not be the speediest roller coaster of the series, but it's certainly a compelling ride. Action-wise, it does drag, but your interest is more focused on the characters and the mysteries they try to work through. And even though the setting for the books is fantasy, what continually sets them apart is that the characters realistically work through a lot of real life issues. It's comforting, in a way, to learn that there's no magic spell for mending a bruised pride or a broken heart. It puts us on common ground with these heroes. And if we're alike in that way, what else might we be capable of?

Approximate Reading Time: 4.5 hours