November 03, 2005


Wizards at War. By Diane Duane. Harcourt. $17.

Book of Enchantments. By Patricia C. Wrede. Magic Carpet/Harcourt. $5.95.

     How seriously do you want to take your wizarding?  Diane Duane takes it very seriously indeed in Wizards at War, the eighth book in a series that began more than 20 years ago with So You Want to Be a Wizard.  This series has become steadily more complex and darker through the years, and the newest book is the darkest yet – and, at 560 pages, the longest.  It brings to a head many of the currents running through the last several books, as the Lone Power strikes all wizards throughout all the worlds, sapping their wizardly abilities – starting with the older, more experienced wizards and working its way down to the younger ones, such as Nita, Kit and Dairine.  Even Kit’s magical dog, Ponch, is behaving strangely in this book, and Earth’s young wizards soon realize that they and their comrades on other planets must wage full-scale war for the first time in millennia.  The war spreads and becomes increasingly complicated, for the Powers That Be, enemies of the Lone Power, operate on a time scale far too vast for mere human wizards (or nonhuman ones) to comprehend.  The complex and rather frightening climax here requires a fairly long explanation afterwards, lightened somewhat when Nita gets to tell the Lone Power, “Running around kicking over everybody’s sand castles doesn’t mean you own the beach.”  Intended for readers ages 12 and up, Wizards at War is really for existing fans of Duane’s series, which shows signs of growing up as its young wizards do.

     But perhaps all this is a bit too intense for what is, after all, escapist literature.  Perhaps what you need is a bit of the lighter side of magic – as neatly provided by Patricia C. Wrede in Book of Enchantments, originally published in 1996 and now available in paperback.  Not all of these 10 stories are fun – indeed, Wrede presents some more-adult situations than Duane does, though this book targets readers as young as 10.  But the good humor inherent in the lighter tales is a welcome relief from sword-and-sorcery seriousness.  A few of these stories are set in the world created by Wrede for her four-book Enchanted Forest Chronicles.  One is set on the Witch World created by Andre Norton.  Others could happen anywhere that has, or could use, a little magic.  There is an Arabian Nights-style story, “The Sixty-two Curses of Caliph Arenschadd”; one in which an attempt to create an ultimate weapon goes seriously awry, “Utensile Strength”; and one in which a blue chipmunk gives an arrogant sorcerer his comeuppance, “Rikiki and the Wizard.”  On the serious side are some genuinely thoughtful short stories, marred a bit by Wrede’s refusal to let her characters have happy endings: “Earthwitch,” about the price of saving a kingdom; “Roses by Moonlight,” on the dark side of the possibility of knowing the future; “Cruel Sisters,” about the fatal result of an intense sibling rivalry.  Though better known as a novelist, Wrede shows here that she can encapsulate with intensity and effectiveness – and, when she wishes, with a finely honed sense of humor.

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