Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Apocalypse Now? Games Wizards Play by Diane Duane

Nita shivered. "A dream within a dream. How do you know the difference between the vision and reality?"

"Yes," said the Lone One "Such a common problem for people with a specialty like yours. They go wandering off among the paths of vision one time too many, and they never come out."

They walked along again quietly. Then, in an altered tone, the Lone One said, "What's the old saying-->that every wizard is the answer to a problem? And that every intervention, every wizardry, solves not only its own problem but others that you may not even know about?

"All is done for each," Nita said. It was a simple expression of a quantum reality, that all events in the universe were interconnected.

"Right," said the Lone One. "There probably ought to be some irony in the concept that while you're being the solution to someone else's problem, they're being the solution to yours."

Author Diane Duane spells out the premise of her tenth book in the Young Wizards series, Games Wizards Play (Young Wizards Series) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), set around the Invitational Wizard Games, occurring every eleven years, a sort of sorcerer's Trans-World Science Fair event with all the teen trappings of such competitions. When drafted to be mentors to a couple of the contestants, young wizards Nita and Dairine Callahan and Kit Rodriguez bemoan that they missed their chance to compete with the best young wizards, being too young for the last games and too old for this one, but they as they deal with their mentees, they see that their role is even more of a challenge than competing. Nita and Kit are assigned to oversee Penn Shao-Feng, brilliant but lazy, flirtatious and flamboyant, whose proposed spell immodestly promises nothing less than controlling the power of the sun and solar weather over the entire solar system.

Dairine's charge is the likewise brilliant but timid and sheltered Mehrnaz Farrahi, whose project is to use counter-tectonic forces to forestall catastrophic earthquakes and who is dominated and rendered nearly impotent by the labyrinthine rivalries within her family, a centuries-old family of venerable Iranian wizards.

Guiding subjects scarcely younger than they, the three young mentors have their own adolescent issues to deal with in addition to watching out for the workings of the universe. Nita and Kit in particular are in the first phase of their romantic feelings for each other, and Dairine has her own self-esteem problems while trying to help Mehrnaz find the strength to present before the august assembly. But as Penn and Mehrnaz pass their initial trials to compete in the finals, they seem to switch personalities, with Penn falling apart before each presentation, and Mehrnaz gaining a sense of herself as a more powerful wizard than any in her family.

It all comes down to Penn's final presentation, with those seemingly sloppy lacunae in his spell's structure turning out to be essential for the conclusion, one in which Nita's dream visions also prove crucial. Penn loses control in mid-spell, and as the sun begins to transform into a apocalyptic supernova, everyone, from young and senior wizards to the Planetaries and the Powers That Be, prove part of the resolution, just as Duane prefigured in Nita's dream sequence with the Lone One. This able author knits together the many threads of this and her earlier books in a conclusion that will be intensely satisfying to faithful followers of the series and bewitching but bewildering to those who unfamiliar with the earlier works.

Science, science fiction, and wizardly fantasy come together uniquely in this book that will challenge and charm Duane's long-time fans and those who cut their fantasy teeth on Harry Potter.

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