Wizards play games on the dark side of the moon.
Minor spoilers ahead.
It has been six years, six long years, since Diane Duane has blessed us with a Young Wizards novel, but she’s returned in full force with the tenth book in the series, Games Wizards Play. Every 11 years, wizards gather for the Invitational—an event that’s part competition, part conference, part science fair—where the youngest among them display their most cutting edge projects. Only, these projects can alter the forces of the universe, or even destroy it.
In Duane’s series, wizards cast their magic in the Speech, a language that everything in the universe can understand. A combination of persuasion, mathematical concepts, and chemistry, a spell spoken in the Speech always works, but not always in the way a wizard intends. Wizards also swear an oath to the Powers That Be to help those in need and to do no harm. Their oath necessitates their willingness to battle the Lone Power—the one who created entropy, pain, and death, and set them loose.
Kit Rodriguez and sisters Nita and Dairine Callahan are chosen as mentors to two younger wizards: Penn Shao-Feng and Merhnaz Farrahi. Kit and Nita get off to a bumpy start when Penn blows them off to visit with a more senior level wizard. It doesn’t help that he also treats Nita, who has re-written the destiny of the Lone Power once or twice, like she’s a neophyte and is less able than Kit. Dairine has almost the opposite problem—Merhnaz suffers from a case of hero worship for her mentor, the girl who created an entirely new species on a silicon planet, and looks to Dairine for constant approval.
As the Invitational progresses, Nita and Kit point out many different areas for improvement in Penn’s spell, which is supposed to stop solar flares. They ask Dairine to take a look at the spell since she’s spent the last few months becoming more familiar with solar magic in order to find an alien king who was swallowed by the sun (it’s a long story). Dairine’s mentee comes with her own set of issues, the largest of which is a family that doesn’t believe in her ability to do anything important. Ever. In fact, Merhnaz’s family would be perfectly happy if she failed because, in that way, she would not embarrass an older family member.
However, both Penn and Merhnaz manage to progress from one level to the next. Penn becomes increasingly arrogant, while Merhnaz turns gloomy and full of angst. As Nita and Kit learn to handle Penn, they must also deal with their own relationship issues. Are they boyfriend and girlfriend? Or something else? How many times do you have save someone’s life before it’s okay to call them your boyfriend?
And that’s what’s so great about Duane’s newest novel. While wizards have the ability to control forces of the universe and transcend time and space, they are, first and foremost, just people. They have conversations with plants and rocks, argue about whether to move a planet or leave it where it is, debate the finer issues of interstellar teleportation, and occasionally turn into whales. Yet, these events and conversations serve as backdrop to their humanity.
While Dairine mentors Merhnaz, she is still trying to cope with the trauma of losing someone close to her, the alien king Roshaun. Nita’s dad is coming to grips with the idea that his oldest daughter might be ready to start a relationship with a boy who once took him to the moon. Kit struggles with his feelings of jealousy as Penn flirts desperately with Nita while simultaneously trying to demean her. Kit and Penn end up in a wizardly version of a street brawl, but instead of knives and fists, they utilize the elements of fire, air, water, and earth.
It’s these parts, the human parts, that make Duane’s characters so relatable and explain the popularity of these young wizards 34 years after their debut in 1983. I highly recommend Games Wizards Play, as well as the rest of the Young Wizards series if you’ve never read them.