On Tuesday, the tenth book in Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series was published. It is not for casual readers. It is really just for fans.
Games Wizards Play concerns a competition called “the Invitational,” which takes place every 11 years and is explicitly compared to a science fair, but with wizardry instead of science. Nita, Kit, and Dairine are all assigned as mentors to (slightly) younger wizards hoping to win a year’s apprenticeship to the “Planetary” wizard.
As world- and universe-ending as the events of other books have been, the focus on the Invitational in Games Wizards Play is a welcome respite. Duane uses it as a chance to explore the characters and how wizards in other families with other backgrounds work. It builds on the world of wizardry that’s mostly on Earth, which is nice and a good vehicle to give depth to everything that’s gone before.
Games Wizards Play brings back everyone and everything from the previous nine novels. If there is a character still alive, they warrant at least a mention. If there was a plot thread dangling, it isn’t by the time this book wraps up. At over 600 pages, this thing is a continuity bomb. Some series are connected but easy to pick up or put down. This is not one of them.
It relies on readers knowing the past so much that I recommend re-reading at least the last few books before starting this one. It’s been six years since A Wizard of Mars, and I didn’t remember enough of the details to get as much out of Games Wizards Play as I think I was supposed to.
Since most of the first half of the book consists of explaining the projects the mentees are building (futzing with the sun and stopping earthquakes) and the mentors making suggestions, there is a lot of stuff that is dense as hell. Duane has had this universe up and running for over 30 years, and it shows. How wizardry works, who has what power, what things should look like, the science of it all—everything is delineated in excruciating and somehow casual detail. Which is fine, you’re not really supposed to understand it as much as you are supposed to to revel in the competence porn of our heroes.
And that’s the most satisfying part of the books, character-wise. Even though a chunk of the book is devoted to Nita and Kit’s newfound romantic feelings toward each other, the reward for fans is the acknowledgement that our characters have grown into their wizardry so cleanly. Since the Young Wizards books are based on the idea the younger you are, the more powerful you are, aging into positions based on something other than raw power is a concern. At the end of the day, Games Wizards Play leaves readers with a sense that everyone is all right and where they are supposed to be. It’s not a hastily done epilogue, but a fully realized journey. Satisfying for fans, but not meant to stand by itself.