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Games Wizards Play by Diane Duane

Games Wizards Play by Diane Duane
Book Name: Games Wizards Play
Author: Diane Duane
Publisher(s): HMH Books for Young Readers (US) Houghton Mifflin (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Urban Fantasy
Release Date: February 2, 2016 (US) April 1, 2016 (UK)

And so we’ve reached the end of the line. Not for my writing for Fantasy-Faction, of course. That, hopefully, will carry on for a long time. No, I mean my reviews of the Young Wizards series, as this month I read the latest installment, Games Wizards Play.

It probably doesn’t surprise anyone at this point that I enjoyed the book. (Honestly, I think I could enjoy even a calculus textbook if Diane Duane wrote it.) I certainly wasn’t surprised. What did surprise me was just how light-hearted this book was compared to the previous few. Lately, the stakes have been running high for Kit and Nita. In Wizard’s Holiday, they found themselves guiding a whole planet on to the next step in its existence; in Wizards at War, they had to stop the Lone Power from tearing apart the universe; and in A Wizard of Mars, they had to travel back in time to settle a dispute which had robbed Mars of its kernel. That’s not even getting into the stuff with Dairine and Roshaun, the irritating alien prince who vanished mysteriously while trying to stop the universe from being torn apart. It’s been a heavy past few books, and reading them all in quick succession (as I am wont to do with any series I enjoy) means that I am very appreciative of a chance for a breather.

You probably won’t think it’s a breather at the start of the first chapter, which opens with Kit engaged in a battle. It isn’t long, though, before that’s settled and we get into the rest of the plot. Kit, Nita, and Dairine have all been chosen to be mentors in the Invitational, a gathering of young wizards which occurs every eleven years. As mentors, they will have another wizard placed under their charge and help said wizard to improve a spell of their own design to be presented before Earth’s Planetary, Irina Mladen. When you see “games”, don’t think Hunger Games; think science fair, but much more exciting.

Once again, Diane Duane shines when writing secondary characters. Both Nita and Kit (working as a team, as ever) and Dairine wind up with difficult candidates, but the differences are a perfect juxtaposition. Penn Shao-Feng, Nita and Kit’s candidate, is confident in his abilities to the point of obnoxiousness, but some of that confidence is well-deserved. His spell, which would help to protect Earth from solar flares, is impressive despite its roughness. He also happens to be the teenage equivalent of the trilby-clad man who addresses all women as “m’lady”, which means that when sparks fly between him and Nita, they’re more the sort to start a wildfire than a romance.

Dairine’s candidate, Mehrnaz Farrahi, is the exact opposite of Penn. She is just as skilled as he (her spell to help prevent earthquakes is elegant and not nearly as rough as Penn’s), but her home life has led to her having little confidence in her own abilities and being equally terrified of victory and failure. For the brash, charge-straight-ahead Dairine, dealing with her candidate’s attitude will be harder than dealing with her wizardry.

This is one of the few books in the series where it really hit me that we are dealing with teenagers. Diane Duane never tries to hide their ages in the other books, but Nita and Kit (and even Dairine, once she gets through a few rough patches) are astoundingly mature for their age. I just assumed that having the fate of the universe in your hands would do that for you, but apparently teenagers will always be teenagers, regardless of how much responsibility they are given. Penn and Mehrnaz may have more power than any of us had at their age, but they still feel like people we might have met in high school. It’s this detail which makes the book so enjoyable and keeps it from turning into just an example of how clever wizardly teenagers can be.

Amid all the teenage angst (and some troubling visions for Nita which promise that the next book will not be so light and cheerful), there are moments of genuine joy. The stakes of the Invitational are fairly high – the winner gets to spend a year training with Irina – but Diane Duane never really lets us forget that they are games. After anyone is eliminated, there’s a party, and people from all around come to celebrate their effort (and because, after everything that’s happened, they need an excuse to celebrate).

In all, this was a good book to end my run on. It’s a shame to reach the current end of the series, but I can assure you I am eager for whatever book follows this one.


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