Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations


****A Wizard Alone

by Diane Duane

Reviewed February 1, 2003.
Harcourt, San Diego, 2002. 320 pages. 
Available at Sembach Library (JF DUA)
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #9, Young Adult Fantasy

I read the first three books of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series in a single volume set  years ago.  I liked it so much, I gave the set to several of my best friends that year for Christmas.  It stood out in my mind as one of the best books I’d read that year, and still stands out as one of my favorite fantasy series.

The idea probably sounds familiar:  A couple of kids discover how to become wizards and that there are hundreds of wizards out there in the world walking and working among us.  They don’t go to school to learn their art, instead they have a personalized manual that teaches them what they need to know.

This series was written years before Harry Potter, and although the starting premise is similar, the books are quite different.  Diane Duane, very expertly and seamlessly, puts the wizardry in a spiritual context.  The wizards in her world serve the Powers That Be, particularly the One Power Who created everything.  Her wizards fight against the Lone Power, who rebelled long ago against the One and now uses entropy to cause death and destruction in our world.

As with Harry Potter, I think it would be clear to any reader that this wizardry is not something that the reader could imitate.  To become a wizard in Diane Duane’s world, you have to take the Oath and pass an Ordeal.  Then the magic comes from outside yourself.  Kids might wish it would happen to them, but they will clearly understand that it’s only fantasy.

I describe all this because I think that those who object to Harry Potter might find this series less objectionable.  In this book, Diane Duane briefly takes on those objections.  She has her character, Kit, thinking about his older sister: “When Kit had started casually using wizardry around the house, Helena had actually gone through a short period when she’d thought he’d done some kind of deal with the devil.  Finally she calmed down when she saw that Kit had no trouble participating at church along with the rest of the family, and when Kit got Helena to understand that the Lone Power, no matter which costume It was wearing, was never going to be any friend of his.”  In other words, this author sets us an imaginary world where God uses wizards among us to accomplish his purposes.

The stories she writes about this world are excellent, imaginative, absorbing and entertaining.  Her two main characters are Nita Callahan and Kit Rodriguez.  They both become wizards in the first book, So You Want To Be a Wizard? and go through an Ordeal together.  From there, their adventures span the ocean in Deep Wizardry, space in High Wizardry, Ireland in A Wizard Abroad, and alternate universes in The Wizard’s Dilemma.  Diane Duane even wrote a companion book about cats who are wizards called The Book of Night With Moon.

I do recommend that you read some of the earlier books in the series before taking on A Wizard Alone.  Some of the work in alternate universes begun in The Wizard’s Dilemma continues in this book, and I think it would get confusing without having read the earlier book.  The Sembach Library does have the first book, as well as The Wizard’s Dilemma.

In A Wizard Alone, Nita is depressed and withdrawn (over the events of the previous book), so Kit takes on a mission alone.  He attempts to help a new wizard who seems to be stuck in his Ordeal.  Kit learns that this new wizard is autistic, and he attempts to communicate by going “inside Darryl’s head” to a sort of universe created by Darryl and the way he sees the world.  The story has some interesting challenges and deals with some big questions.  I tend not to like the books as well that are less straightforward (complicated magic like alternate universes), but Diane Duane pulls this one off and kept me interested all the way through.

Reviews of other books by Diane Duane:
Wizard's Holiday
Wizards at War
Games Wizards Play
Stealing the Elf-King's Roses

Amazon links to more Diane Duane books:
So You Want To Be a Wizard?
Deep Wizardry
High Wizardry
A Wizard Abroad
The Wizard's Dilemma
The Book of Night With Moon

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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