So You Want to be a Wizard by Diane Duane

Read  November 2017
Recommended for people who want to think
★    ★    ★    1/2

Why yes, yes I do.

Based on the title, I expected something rather light and possibly silly. What I got was something more substantial, an old middle-grade book/YA book that suddenly had me recalling A Wrinkle in Time and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Somehow I missed this one when I was younger, which is too bad. An enthusiastic review from a friend (thanks, Allie!) alerted me to this deficiency and I decided to rectify it.

“She strolled between shelves, looking at titles, smiling as she met old friends–books she had read three times or five times or a dozen. Just a title, or an author’s name, would be enough to summon up happy images. Strange creatures like phoenixes and psammeads, moving under smoking London daylight of a hundred years before… starships and new worlds and the limitless vistas of interstellar night…”

Nita, short for Juanita, is regularly bullied and abused by neighborhood kids, finding herself almost helpless to prevent it. As she is running away, she darts into the library for safety and finds herself walking through the children’s section, greeting books like old friends. One jumps out at her: So You Want to Be a Wizard? and she finds herself intrigued by what she reads. Perhaps it can help keep her safe from bullying? The wizard’s book is divided into sections, and the read book follows those guidelines. ‘Prologue,’ ‘Preliminary Exercises,’ Research and Development,’ etc. In short order, she meets another bullied kid, Kat, and starts working with him to retrieve a pen stolen from Nita in her latest attack. Events quickly escalate.

There’s a lot to like here; a male and female lead that aren’t involved in a romantic relationship, Kat’s Latino heritage, parents that are supportive but mildly inept, astrophysics, mild fart humor, and kids saving the world. I thought the meta-themes of responsibility, compassion and choices well done. Added bonus for talking to trees and a (view spoiler). I loved the affection for libraries and books so evident in the first chapter. I thought the dialogue had an organic feel.

What isn’t to like is that Duane seems to still have some period sexism going on, generally possibly explained by the fact that Kat discovers his book sooner, except that it still felt… off. There’s also a lot of extraneous writing where a paragraph literally takes up a page and a half, particularly at the end battle. Plot development is a bit disjointed; I think even as a youth, it would have seemed odd to me to draw my sand in the line over an astronaut pen, but maybe not. The skill level of the two young wizards grows exponentially; they literally prepare for the big adventure by reading thirty chapters in one night. Because a lot of times Nita and Kat use Wizard Speech, the dialogue markers are in parenthesis, which may be confusing to less sophisticated readers.

On the balance, however, good completely outweighs the bad. I bet I would have loved it when I was younger, and I can absolutely see giving the sequel a try.

Three and a half stars, rounding up at the request of Young carol.

See also mark monday’s review:…


About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, fantasy, Urban fantasy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to So You Want to be a Wizard by Diane Duane

  1. I seldom read YA fiction even when I was a youngster, but a friend got me to read this book and its sequel when I was in high school, and it would not be an understatement to say that the second one, Deep Wizardry, literally changed my life. And yeah, the fact that Nita and Kit aren’t romantically involved is a nice bonus — sometimes the emphasis that most fiction places on ‘the importance of having a boyfriend/girlfriend’ or whatever gets really, really annoying.

    • thebookgator says:

      Oooh, that’s a powerful statement. I was mentally putting the sequel on ‘one-of-these-days’ for follow-up, but I think I’ll have to get to it sooner. By the way, our psychic wires must have crossed, as I was absolutely thinking of you when I tried to punctuate my opening sentence.

  2. Melora says:

    Sounds like a good one! I enjoyed the review (and the nod to Young Carol’s probable opinion — that is such a relevant consideration with juvenile fiction!). I’m still a little off Jones after “Fire and Hemlock,” but I’m mentally adding this one to the someday list. I know we have it around the house somewhere.

  3. I love these books a ton. I did a reread of the whole series a couple of years ago, and it’s hard to chose a favorite. For me, it comes down to books three, five, and eight. The first is good but the series grows a lot from there! Although there are all sorts of continuity messes, since she started writing in the 80’s and is still writing the series. She rewrote the earlier books to try and deal with some of the timeline issues, setting everything in the 2000’s.

    • thebookgator says:

      That’s really interesting, that she had to re-write early books. I don’t think I got a rewritten edition, but perhaps. Good to know that you enjoyed more of the series. Intriguing ideas and enjoy the non-love interest relationship as well.

      • Apparently there’s not that much changes for the first two. I think some references to the Twin Towers are removed and some technology updated. The most changes are for book six, where she listened to some criticism of an autistic character’s portrayal and then changed a lot in the rewrite.

      • thebookgator says:

        Oh, that’s very interesting! I appreciate that she was willing to re-write a character to be more sensitive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.