Book Review: “A Wizard of Mars” by Diane Duane

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A Wizard of Mars
by Diane Duane

I’ve been waiting a long time for Book 9 of the “Young Wizards” series. It’s out at last, as of April 2010. I was blessed to receive an “Advance Reading Copy” through the kindness of Diane Duane and the Houghton Mifflin people. Woo-hoo! Keep ’em coming, Diane!

It seems like much longer, but in the world of young wizards Kit Rodriguez and Nita Callahan, only a few months have passed since the events of Wizards at War. Senior wizards are still working overtime to restore the equilibrium of the galaxy after its near-miss with extinction. So perhaps it isn’t terribly odd that the team searching for signs of life on Mars consists of of mostly teenaged wizards. Besides, no one is more fascinated by the mystery that shrouds the red planet than Kit. He knows the name of every crater by heart. He wonders what happened to the “kernel” (a sort of planetary motherboard) that’s been missing from the planet since time immemorial. And he’s on fire to find out why, if Mars has never supported life, the fourth planet resonates so deeply in the mankind’s racial memory with feelings of tragedy and warlike menace.

And now, behold! An alien artifact turns up on Mars. At first, when a group of wizards is gathered around, it doesn’t seem to do anything. But when Kit sneaks back to look at it alone, it opens up and sends out signals triggering a series of perilous tests. While Nita, feeling left behind by her wizarding partner, lags a step behind him, Kit is drawn into an ancient and terrible race’s quest for rebirth. A tale of eternally warring clans, (literally) star-crossed lovers, and wizardry turned toward selfish and monstrous ends threatens to obliterate Kit’s identity. And Nita may have to choose between losing him and violating the most sacred oath of wizardry.

It really is a pleasure to be back among my “Young Wizards” friends again. Nita’s sister Dairine is still obsessed with finding her lost friend Roshaun. Kit’s sister Carmela is still showing more and more signs of late-blooming wizardry. The formerly autistic Darryl, the still-Irish Ronan, and a spacefaring whale all make welcome returns, among others. The story has plenty of humor, drama, emotional punch, suspense, and ethical conundrums to keep you eagerly turning the pages.

I must admit, however, that the last couple chapters were a bit of a let-down. Bear in mind that I read an ARC, so this passage may get tightened up before April; but in their pre-publication form, the last chapter-and-a-half were a little too talky and a lot too reliant on grown-up wizards coming to the rescue of the in-over-their-heads kids. It kind of reminded me of the denouement of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, in which fully one-third of the book consisted of characters explaining stuff that had previously happened. I would like to be able to “see” it happen, in my mind’s eye, rather than have it talked into my mind’s ear. But apart from the post-mortem, the main body of the story shows the “Young Wizards” in their classic form. Here’s to Book 10 coming hard on its heels!