Eleven-year-old Darryl is many things for being one so young. He is a wizard undergoing an interminable Ordeal against the Satanic Lone One. He is an abdal or Pillar, from whom power flows for all the other wizards of Earth, like from out of a reservoir or a well. He is a saint, blessed and cursed with virtue and innocence. He is the creator of vast worlds and universes, the products of his highly imaginative mind. He is autistic drawn into his own self because of the evil and pain he feels in the world.
Kit Rodriguez and Nita Callahan, the two main recurring characters of Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” series of novels, along with Kit’s dog, Ponch, and Dairine, face one of their most difficult challenges (in this sixth book) in trying to help Darryl complete his Ordeal and prevent the Lone One from revealing to Darryl the truth of who he is–that he’s a Pillar.
What’s wrong with someone learning who they really are? Isn’t a deeper knowledge of who we are, a more complete understanding of ourselves, a good thing? Usually, that is the case; but, as Nita reads in her wizard’s manual, when an abdal or Pillar learns the truth about who he/she is, it’s a very, very bad thing, indeed:
The Pillars are rarely recognized as such by their contemporaries. Should they become conscious of their own status as abdals, the realization itself renders them ineffective in their role, which is to channel the One’s [God’s, the Creator’s] power without obstruction into the strengthening of the world. Their portion of that power is then lost to the Worlds, and with its loss, the abdal dies.
As A Wizard Alone opens, Nita and Dairine are still mourning the death of their mother, who passed away due to cancer. Despite their best efforts they discovered that curing her completely was beyond their powers. Though the Lone One is the one who brought death into this world their mother showed that a mother’s love can sometimes be the strongest magic of all. Her love and anger at the Lone One for presuming to take over her body with cancer, and try to force Nita to give up her powers in return for her mother being cured, prevented the Lone One from having an even greater victory.
Nita and Kit have not been working with each other as much as they once did, in the earlier novels of the “Young Wizards” series, both because of Nita’s mother’s illness and a falling-out they had in The Wizard’s Dilemma over the proper phrasing and complexity of a spell to deal with pollution in the ocean that was plaguing the whales. They both have been spending more time off by themselves as Kit has been with his dog and Nita was trying to single-handedly cure her mother through visiting alternate universes and learning how to change their basic laws of physics. Kit is coming into his own more as the series progresses and it’s nice to read about the adventures he has with Ponch. Ponch has a knack–perhaps developed from being the pet of a wizard, and having Kit’s powers overflow into himself–of understanding the Speech all things created know, and which wizards use to form their spells. He can also locate unusual alternate universes, and he and Kit have spent many interesting adventures in the ones Ponch finds. When Kit is asked by Carl, a Senior Wizard, to learn why a wizard’s Ordeal (or initial test against the Lone Power) is taking far longer than it should to complete, Kit and Ponch discover that the most unusual and potentially dangerous universes are sometimes those within our own minds.
You might expect a novel whose topics include cancer and autism to be kind of depressing. Yet, both The Wizard’s Dilemma, the fifth novel in the series, and A Wizard Alone, the sixth one, are life-affirming. They both are about how, even in the face of life’s biggest struggles and potentially devastating outcomes, it is possible to grow and become a stronger person. They both have humorous, light-hearted moments like Ponch’s delight in populating his universe with squirrels to chase in the fifth novel and Kit’s difficulties in trying to resolve a quarrel (often fought in Japanese) between a DVD player, a television set, and a remote control device.
No one knows for sure what causes autism, or what might “cure” it, if anything ever can one day cure it, because–for one thing–there are so many different types of it, and it effects individuals in different ways, to different degrees. Like the term “cancer,” autism is not one distinct disease or illness, but is likely a catch-all term for many different, though similar, conditions. Reading about Darryl’s autism and what he is capable of doing despite his being autistic was fascinating, and opened my eyes up as to what everyday reality is like to autistic people, and how they adapt and cope with reality.
A Wizard Alone is a YA novel, but it, like the entire “”Young Wizards,” series, also has a lot of appeal for adults and parents. I liked seeing that Nita and Kit came at the problem of how to help Darryl from different viewpoints and perspectives, but that they ultimately worked together and had their greatest success using that approach. I’m very interested to read the next three novels in the series, to find out if they will eventually team up more closely like they used to, or if Kit and Nita will continue to have their own adventures (along with Dairine and Ponch), and only occasionally work together. It’s a great series, and A Wizard Alone is a very good addition to it that I’d highly recommend to anyone who likes the Fantasy genre.