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Young Wizards Appreciation Post

March 2, 2016

Covers of the Young Wizards series, written by Diane Duane

I love the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane. Adventure, magic infused with science and a strong moral compass, emotionally complex characters. Two focal characters who are fully realized and believable, both as wizards and as teenagers. An ensemble to support them, of  wizarding and normal family community that makes sense. Funny bits. Scenes and turns of events that make me sigh happily, or outright sob. And the entire series stands up to rereading. Full disclosure: the stories are marketed as YA, and center around teenagers mastering wizardry as they grow up, but I firmly believe that they stand up to reading by adults as well as teens. (I just reread the series with great delight last year, and am contemplating another reread soon.)

I’m trying to write this post in generalities, so as not to spoil new readers, or those reading at different points in the series, who aren’t as far along.

Honestly, the entire series is one of the most humanistic stories I’ve read. And that’s with a cast of characters that includes aliens of all shapes and sizes: a tree with a fondness for baseball caps, a many-legged centipede-looking creature, and let’s not even get started on the pig. Humanistic in the emotional, not literal, sense of the word. Like I said, a strong moral center.

The world-building and schematic of the wizard magic demands a humanist, possibly moral focus to drive the wizard characters. Before embarking on an Ordeal at the emergence of their powers, wizards take an oath:

In Life’s name and for Life’s sake, I say that I will use the Art for nothing but the service of that Life. I will guard growth and ease pain. I will fight to preserve what grows and lives well in its own way; and I will change no object or creature unless its growth and life, or that of the system of which it is part, are threatened. To these ends, in the practice of my Art, I will put aside fear for courage, and death for life, when it is right to do so — till Universe’s end

I love this series because the use of magic is carefully considered from a moral and scientific standpoint, and because using magic opens up a community network that includes both wizards and non-wizards, (without the somewhat racist bloodline Muggle/Mudblood/Wizard schism crafted by an Author Who Must Not Be Named) working together and sometimes in conflict.

The focal characters are Nita and Kit, who come into wizardly power as young teens, soon joined by Nita’s younger sister Dairine. Tom and Carl, local Advisories, serve as mentors to the wizards learning their craft. Over the course of the books, their network expands out, as they meet new wizards under the sea, from other planets, from other times. Nita, Kit and Dairine also need to make the decision about when and how to reveal their wizard status to their families, who are shown grappling with that knowledge in entirely plausible ways for the characters that they are. I love the fact that all of Kit and Nita and Dairine’s mentors, both parents and wizards, make sure to help them honor their real world and wizard responsibilities.

In the Young Wizards world, magic and spells are conducted in the Speech, a universal language that all beings and things can understand. It’s impossible for a wizard to lie in the Speech. Names are central to the crafting of spells: complex names that describe who the spellcasters are in their essence. I like the central focus on language, and the importance of it in spell architecture.

Magic in this world also takes the laws of nature and physics into account, whether exacting a physical toll of exhaustion for the energy depleted in casting a spell, or having to account for oxygen use and mass in constructing a safe bubble for transit to the moon.

The series was first published over 20 years ago, and the above covers reflect an updated version, currently available as e-books. Diane Duane updated the novels to reflect tech advances, and to address continuity and other issues that came up when revising them as a series for reissue. The changes work so seamlessly, that nothing jarred my own fond memories of reading them for the first time.

To sum up: if you like fantasy, in general, or if your fantasy reading began and ended with Harry Potter, you should read the Young Wizards series.

And you’re probably going to love them as much as I do.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2016 3:51 pm

    I’ve loved these books since I discovered them when I was nine years old (over thirty years ago) and I continue to recommend them to every fantasy reader at my library. Something significant I only realized recently was that Kit Rodriguez is one of the very rare Latino protags in children’s fantasy. Especially for things pubbed prior to 2010.

    • March 2, 2016 4:57 pm

      … Stephanie, I’ve loved, read, re-read and recommended those books endlessly, as you know. But I hadn’t even considered Kit in the larger picture of Latino protagonists and diversity in YA. Worth thinking about!

      • March 2, 2016 5:33 pm

        What I really loved discovering too in the later books is Carmela and her ability to keep up with the wizards despite her lack of wizardry! She’s such a delightful character.

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