What happens when wizardry stops working? Can the end of the world as we know it be far behind? The young teen wizards Nita and her younger sister, Dairine, fellow wizard Christopher (Kit) Rodriguez, and his dog, Ponch find out in the eighth novel in Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” series, Wizards At War. It’s the longest of the novels that make up the series so far (552 pages), but it is fast-paced and fun to read. If you’re used to reading long books about magic, wizardry, and the evil forces the wizards combat against, like the Harry Potter novels, you’re sure to also love this book and the entire “Young Wizards” series!
Wizards At War and the other novels of the “Young Wizards” series have very little to do with the books of J.K Rowling, other than they both are about young wizards, they’re both excellently written, and this is a relatively long novel, as are many of the Harry Potter ones. There is a main villain in both series – this one has one called the Starsnuffer, the Lone Power, or other names, and Rowling’s has Lord Voldemort – but that’s about the extent of the comparisons. The Lone Power is self-serving, but his ultimate goal is the spread of entropy and death across all of the planets, galaxies and universes that he or his avatars can get to, one way or the other. He’s not after anything as mundane as eternal life for himself, because he is one of the original Powers That Be, and – though theoretically, he can die – he’s basically immortal, unlike Lord Voldemort.
Wizards At War is my newest favorite of the series. All of the “Young Wizards” books are very well written, and each one seems to top the ones before it. I say that it is my “newest favorite,” because it has a heavier emphasis on SF than any of the “Young Wizards” novels since High Wizardry, which was primarily about Dairine’s Ordeal, or initiation and first mission into the wizardly world, when she battled against the Lone One her first time. I like both the Fantasy and SF genres, but when they’re combined well by an expert like Diane Duane, the results can be truly magical.
Nita, Dairine, and Kit are still on their Spring Break. (Must be nice; theirs is two weeks long, whereas mine was a week.) It’s been a working vacation, though – Nita and Kit were on another planet, a part of a student exchange program that also saw three alien wizards coming to stay at the Callahan’s house with Dairine and her father (Nita’s and Dairine’s mother having passed away). The three alien wizards, a giant centipede-like creature, Sker’ret, a mobile tree with eye-berries, Filif, and the prince – now king – of his planet, Roshaun, helped save the Earth from being burnt like overdone bacon by the Sun, which had been bleeding off solar energy in the form of massive solar flares.
Dark matter and its rapid spread throughout all of the universes and the galaxies, what’s causing it, and how can its spread be stopped, and reversed, are the main problems confronting the young wizards in Wizards At War. The increase of dark matter is speeding up the expansion of space, also, and it is directly effecting all sentient beings. The older wizards, realizing that one of the effects is that their powers are diminishing, decide to give what powers of theirs remain over to the younger ones. Tom and Carl, who had been the Senior wizards for Nita, Dairine, and Kit, tell them that they now will be the Senior wizards, at least until the crisis they’re facing passes – if it passes. If not, it won’t really matter anyway, because all life will have been destroyed, everywhere.
They might only have a few months left, so they need to get organized and get all of the younger wizards of the world, including the animal ones like the whales in the seas and younger feline and canine wizards to work together, some on the Earth and some off of it, on a solution to the crisis. The measures the older wizards had tried, of trying to deal with each localized outbreak of the spread of dark matter, had failed – dark matter spread even more rapidly in those areas after the wizards had tried their spells there.
The young wizards travel to the Moon, where they have a big meeting, and some wizards from past books in the series attend and become important characters in the plot of Wizards At War.For instance, the whale S’reee, from Deep Wizardry is there, bobbing inside a large protective shield, which looks like an bubble, and also the autistic but very powerful wizard, Darryl, from A Wizard Alone. Ronan Nolan, whom Nita meets in Ireland in A Wizard Abroad is there, with the Spear of Light, and the Champion of the One (aka the Defender) still inside of him.
Eventually they discover that swarms of creatures called the Pullulus, huge insect-like beings (they aren’t like Sker’ret or regular insects in that they don’t use the Speech all sentient beings know to communicate with) are causing the spread of dark matter. War seems to be the only option the wizards have left. But, are they too late to defeat the minions of the Lone Power? Can even their tremendous combined powers, and the help of Ronan, the Spear of Light, and the Champion of the One be enough to stop the further spread of dark matter?
I was reminded as I read Wizards At War, of Philip Pullman’s famous His Dark Materials trilogy of novels, in that “dark matter” plays an important part in both examples. The very real existence of dark matter is handled quite differently in both cases, though. In Wizards At War its spread could mean the end of all life; in Pullman’s novels, it’s known as “Dust,” but while it’s definitely not a good thing, it is not as fatal as it is to life as in Duane’s novel.
Wizards At War is a cracking good novel, one that will take you on powerful flights of fancy to intensely realized worlds across the universe and beyond. It’s an incredible mix of Fantasy and SF, and it is a must-read for fans of the “Young Wizards” series who may not have read it yet. A drawback is that it builds on the previous novels that have come before it in the series, so it probably could not be appreciated as much as it should be if one read it before having read the other “Young Wizards” novels. It is not a stand-alone sort of book. But, it is a very well-written and powerful novel, a great addition to the series, and I would definitely recommend it to fans of the “Young Wizards” series.