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The Wizard’s Dilemma by Diane Duane

The Wizard’s Dilemma by Diane Duane
5
Book Name: The Wizard’s Dilemma
Author: Diane Duane
Publisher(s): Harcourt Children's Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Urban Fantasy
Release Date: June 1, 2001

Well, here we are. Another month, another volume of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series. By now, you probably all know what to expect from this review: chatter about brilliantly portrayed non-human characters, gushing over the way the theme of wizardry as selflessness continues to come up in the series, and maybe, if I find the space, a brief summary of the plot, or at least just enough of it to get you hooked.

Under most circumstances, you’d be right. (Honestly, you probably are.) But The Wizard’s Dilemma is not like any of the other books in the Young Wizards series so far, and while that surprised me, it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.

Let’s get the necessary business out of the way first. There was not one standout non-human character this time, but only because there were several non-human characters, a few of whose eyes Nita gets to see through in what I felt was a perfect way to introduce us to the various differences between species. Sight is one of the senses that we take for granted because it’s possibly our strongest sense, and to see through another being’s eyes and find that they experience the world in a way that can only be described as wildly other is both unsettling and exhilarating.

The connection between selflessness and wizardry appears yet again in this book, but in a different way than it has in previous volumes because the conflict is so different. While previous books have had grand battles against the Lone Power (A Wizard Abroad springs to mind, where a large collection of Irish witches gathered to do battle on another realm) and the tension has been high from external, wizardly factors (High Wizardry had a debate as the climax, but before the debate, Dairine had to flee across several worlds to escape the Lone Power), in The Wizard’s Dilemma, the source of conflict comes from within, in two senses of the word.

The first and most evident is that Kit and Nita are fighting, and it doesn’t feel like just a normal squabble between friends. This is a full-blown argument, one which ends with them not speaking to each other for a few days. Diane Duane does a fantastic job at getting into both their heads as they get under each other’s skin, and even if some of Kit’s reasoning that girls are just different species seems a little simplistic, it still rings true for anyone who made it through adolescence. Whether because of nature or nurture, boys and girls really are very different, and those differences mean that even a small fight can expand into something much larger.

It doesn’t help that Nita has plenty of stress in her life without having to navigate the changing waters of her friendship. She’s started high school, which is tricky enough even with completely perfect friendships, and Dairine’s power levels are crashing. It’s a normal part of being a wizard – the younger ones start out with a massive amount of available power but learn precision as that fades – but that doesn’t make it any easier for either of the Callahan sisters. Dairine’s frustrated, and Nita’s frustrated by her sister’s frustration, and everything comes to a head when they learn that their mother has a tumor on her brain.

If you couldn’t tell yet, this book isn’t a fun romp with wizardry.

Really, none of the books have been completely lighthearted. Even the first book, which in children’s series about magic tends to be cheerful and welcoming, has that terrifying alternate New York and the tender, bittersweet epilogue set in Timeheart. I wasn’t at all surprised by this book taking a dark turn as well, but I was surprised (and delighted) by how well Diane Duane managed to treat the seriousness of the subject. The Callahans treat each other like an actual family does, pulling together to support each other, and in the face of tragedy, Kit and Nita drop their argument so that he can support her.

We also get to see another side to the Lone Power. He’s appeared in previous books as the greatest enemy (which, being essentially the devil, he serves as the ultimate enemy), but in this one he as a much quieter presence. It’s a perfect reminder that he isn’t only a being with godlike abilities: He is the bringer of death and entropy, both of which work in quiet, inexorable ways in our own world. We also finally have a chance to understand just how dangerous he truly is. Before, his power was overt, but here he is subtle and seductive, inviting Nita and the reader to ask themselves whether it really would be so bad to just give in.

The Wizard’s Dilemma is a brilliant addition to the series and I have no doubt that you will enjoy it as much as I did.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
The Wizard’s Dilemma by Diane Duane, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
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2 Comments

  1. Stephanie says:

    Great review! I need to give this series a go.

  2. Hey, thanks for doing these reviews! As a big fan of the books, I always love hearing from people how they have affected their lives. The biggest response I hear from people when they discover we both have read Young Wizards is “I thought I was the only one who had heard of them!”

    Regardless, it seems like YW is enjoying a bit of a resurgence these days: Mark Oshiro of Mark Reads is doing a readthrough of all the books and reacting to them on his YouTube channel, and year two of CrossingsCon, a convention for Young Wizards and speculative fiction in general, is in August this year! (Disclaimer: I help plan the con, so I’m biased. But it will be amazing,) There is even a fandom Slack set up, which you can get an invitation for through crossingscon.org.

    I also noticed that you are reading the original editions. Have you given any thought to reading the New Millenium Editions instead or at the same time? They mostly have some continuity stuff fixed and the text updated, but there are some meaningful changes to the flow of events at the end of Book 6 that make the way the narrative treats [SPOILERS] much less problematic. (And there are the short stories and the novellas too to review! I hope they are on your list as well!)

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