Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series is a truly great fantasy universe. It’s so perfect, I actually don’t want anybody to adapt it for TV or movies. Instead, everybody should hunt these books down and experience their greatness firsthand.
The series currently stands at nine books (a tenth is due out in February), plus a number of spinoff stories. It follows Nita and Kit, two young adult wizards who go from novices to experienced protectors of the universe over the course of the novels. The books are so rich and varied in their storytelling, they deserve a place among the all-time great book series.
There’s a lot to love about Duane’s series. The fact that the first book is called So You Want to Be a Wizard is one. The diversity of the characters is another. But, for my money, the sheer breadth of the world Duane’s created sets it apart.
The Young Wizards series is so well-conceived and researched, it’s actually amazing that Duane has managed to fit it all into nine books. Wizardry, in this world, isn’t just powers that young people need training in—it’s a vital ability that slows the inevitable death of the universe. Wizardy is speech in this world. And perfectly and accurately describing what you want to happen, makes it happen. And that’s powered by belief, so the younger the wizard the more powerful they are. As they are more likely to believe in their own success.
The way Duane observes our world and incorporates those observations into the stories gives them weight. She gives the human obsession with naming and description an existential reason in her universe. And she explains why children would end up soldiers in this war.
And it is a war, in every single book. Wizards get their power from The Powers That Be—AKA every myth, legend, or Biblical angel in existence. Since one Power created the “gift” of death and then left, it’s the Lone Power. It goes around offering every single species in existence the “Choice” of accepting his gift. When he wins, the end of the universe gets closer. When he loses—usually because wizards manage to interfere—entropy slows down. Duane reverses the usual “scientific understanding replaces myth” trope, by giving entropy a face and a goal.
Duane doesn’t flinch at killing off major characters in these books. And these deaths are wrenching, every single time. From the merely tragic to the noble sacrifice—this isn’t a bloodless war.
The depth and breadth of Duane’s universe is reflected in that every species is offered a Choice part. Deep Wizardry deals with the rituals of whale wizards. Two of the spinoffs center on cat wizards, which should be ridiculous, but is just as richly thought out as the human wizard stories. Intergalactic wizards take center stage in High Wizardry, plus the first book has an sentient white hole named “Fred.” A Wizard Abroad weaves Irish folklore and time travel into a desperate battle. But then, A Wizard Alone is centered on a single’s boy’s mind. All of these stories exist seamlessly in the same universe. It’s an incredible feat Duane pulls off.
The banter’s great, too. It would have to be, to keep the heaviness of the rest of the material in check. Like this, from A Wizard Abroad:
“What I really need right now in terms of energy is a chocolate bar,” she said, “but the only thing I’ve got left in my pack is a cat. And I can’t eat that.” She made an amused face. “Too many bones.”
The books are also full of things just for nerds. You’ve got Star Wars as a major influence on one character. A Wizard of Mars absorbs science fiction tropes as easily as A Wizard Abroad did Irish folklore. And there’s even a cameo from the Doctor himself in one of the books, too.
The relationships between the characters are as deep and conflicted as they should be. Siblings fight. Best friends start growing apart. Parents have to let their kids go into danger. I love these characters.
And that’s why I hope nobody ever tries to film this material. There is a lot that Duane manages to convey with her language, and a movie could never capture it all. In her prose, all the cat wizards who maintain portals between worlds and space travel are unified. I don’t know if there are many filmmakers I’d trust to make it all work. It’s best to just go read the books.
I’ve been dancing around a lot of things trying not to spoil these books for anyone who hasn’t read them—but just trust me that they will break your heart and lift you up at the same time.
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