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Games Wizards Play cover

There are certain authors in SFF who seem to be perpetually flying under the radar, rendering their fanbases secret clubs even amongst genre fans. One such secret club in science fiction, fantasy, and YA worth belonging to, and one that every fantasy lover should get in on, is the secret club of people who've read and love Diane Duane's Young Wizards series [1]. In the run-up to and wake of the publication of the tenth installment in the series, Games Wizards Play (2016), I took the excuse first to reread all the preceding books, and few exercises in revisiting childhood favorites have been so vindicating, so filled with wonder, sorrow, delight, and ultimately joy. In other words, my reread merely reflected the books' contents back at me.

The Young Wizards books, broadly speaking, do what they say on the tin, beginning with So You Want to Be a Wizard? (1983): thanks to the machinations of the Lone Power, "fairest and fallen," entropy is running throughout the universe, and a small number of beings from sentient species are offered the free choice to work as agents of the Powers That Be, tasked with fighting entropy and guarding growth by pursuing the Art of wizardry, "in Life's name and for Life's sake." In the book's first pages, thirteen-year-old Nita Callahan ducks into the library in her town in the Long Island suburbs to avoid a pack of bullies chasing her and stumbles across the eponymous book of the title, which turns out to be a wizard's Manual. Having sworn the Oath, Nita soon meets Kit Rodriguez, another boy from her school who has also just taken the Oath, and together they embark on their wizardly Ordeals, the initial trial by fire which gives prospective wizards the chance to prove that they've got what it takes to stay in the business. Nita and Kit are party to the Sun going out as part of their Ordeal; they also meet a white hole named Fred and stumble into a dark Manhattan overseen by the Lone Power itself—and that's all in just the first book. Later volumes broaden and deepen the series and its characters, starting with Nita's younger sister Dairine, whose first act as a prospective wizard in High Wizardry (1990) is to open a portal to Mars from the bathrooms in the American Museum of Natural History.

Games Wizards Play unquestionably feels like a lighter interlude after some rather heavy books, as well as a breather before the very terrible future that is prophesied directly during the events of the Invitational, a planetary wizardly gathering held every eleven years to show off hot new wizardly talents and give Earth's notable wizards an excuse to do some networking. Nita, Kit, and Dairine are tapped to participate in the Invitational as mentors to some of the contestants; Dairine works with Mehrnaz, who's interested in mitigating earthquakes, while Nita and Kit's mentee Penn is interested in working with stellar energy. Nita and Kit are now in their junior year of high school, and their Seniors pitch their participation to their parents as a kind of career fair, with the result that both of them spend some time thinking about what they're going to do in their future wizardly specialties. Though the book spends significant chunks of time in Kit and Dairine's points of view, Games Wizards Play also affirms Nita's status as the central protagonist of the series in a variety of ways—particularly when Irina, the Planetary wizard for Earth, dresses Kit down for potentially distracting Nita at a very important time in her career.

So You Want To Be A Wizard cover

Duane, above all, has a gift for description, and Games Wizards Play in particular shows her at the top of her powers. Although other reviews complain that the book is six hundred pages long, by my count it's actually shorter than both of the last two books, and in any case length is no object when the book flies by so engrossingly. It's true that GWP has quite a lot of description of the way spells work, but the workings of the Speech and of wizardry are never boring when Duane describes them—particularly not since Nita has begun to hear the voice of the peridexis, the spirit of wizardry itself, acting as something of a confidante as well as a wizardly personal assistant. (Nita promptly christens it Bobo, after her childhood imaginary friend.) Indeed, the pleasures of description, and of how even technical jargon can be made to sing in the right hands, are ongoing minor miracles in the series, albeit appropriate for one in which wizardry is enacted via the Speech, research is the first step for any wizardly endeavor, and the power of persuasion is the ultimate magic.

The other great pleasure of the novel is spending more time with the characters, many of whom are old friends after ten books and others of whom are introduced, or who feature more significantly, for the first time. At the same time, Games Wizards Play expands the canon in ways that feel even more salient in 2K16. The book confirms that at least one wizard already present in the series is gay, while a new character, Lissa, casually mentions that she's asexual; there is also kissing in this book, which is only to be expected after Nita and Kit decided that they were a couple at the end of the previous book, A Wizard of Mars (2010). Duane continues her usual inclusion of people from different racial and cultural backgrounds, particularly with the two mentee wizards in this book, the Iranian-Indian (and Muslim!) Mehrnaz, and the frankly pain-in-the-ass Penn, who's Chinese-American and from San Francisco. Meanwhile, Australian Matt's boyfriend is a wizard from Egypt. Listed together like this, it may sound like tokenizing, or "diversity for diversity's sake": but in a series that takes seriously the interconnectedness not just of humans but of all life on Earth and the self-awareness of non-sentient objects, indeed of the universe itself, it just seems like a normal reflection of the world around us—which it is. Duane's New York has always felt like the real New York, not the whitewashed Hollywood version of Manhattan, because it was and it is, and these characters belong in the Invitational at the Javits Center, just like they would belong on the city streets outside the book's pages.

The mainstream critical consensus on Games Wizards Play is that it's a book "for the fans," meaning that it's impenetrable to series newcomers. I suspect the last book that newcomers could easily jump into is Wizard's Holiday (2003), which introduces many of the members of the expanded cast who've since grown to play diverse and important roles. Some of those characters, such as Kit's older sister Carmela, are a constant delight, and all of them are interesting, not least in the ways they blend their varied skill-sets with those of the Earth wizards we've already met. But I want to dispute the notion that something being "for the fans" is inherently detrimental or undesirable. Bluntly, I don't know why someone would want to read this book without having at least some of the earlier Young Wizards books under their belt, because a great deal of the pleasure of Games Wizards Play lies in the way that it builds on and expands the developments of its predecessors. There are frequent callbacks not only to the events of A Wizard of Mars, but also all the way back to SYWtBaW, and those callbacks are all the more meaningful if you've gone on the same journey that the wizards have. The payoff of Dairine putting a thoroughly arrogant older (and emotionally abusive) wizard in her place by reciting her own wizardly lineage and accomplishments in GWP is the payoff for having watched Dairine go from a young, burningly thirsty, and arrogant nerd to someone who's calmly confident in her own power and newly able to accept her limitations, who now has a much clearer sense of where her place in the universe is—and who is able to accept it when Irina tells her that she did the right thing but nonetheless may have to apologize for it.

Interim Errantry cover

This same long familiarity with the characters makes the "interstitial book" Interim Errantry (2016) a continual delight. Self-published by Duane, the book comprises two previously published short stories and a new short novel, "Lifeboats," which chronicles an off-planet intervention into which many wizards are drafted to help supervise the evacuation of a species from its home planet before that planet is destroyed by the disintegration of its moon. Nothing much happens during these stories, but, particularly in "Lifeboats," that's the pleasure and the point: although it doesn't follow a standard plot diagram, "Lifeboats" shows the unintended power that small acts of compassion can have, as Kit telling a housepet a story proves to have unforeseen and literally world-changing consequences. "All is done for each," the characters remind each other, and this ethical expression of quantum relationships is borne out by the series again and again. What makes "Lifeboats" great is that it unites the expression of that principle with a story that is almost entirely comprised of character moments but is still compelling reading and, ultimately, a wizardly task done well—to say nothing of the pleasure of spending more time with the characters we've come to know and love, particularly the Seniors Tom and Carl.

All that said, the younger wizards are still growing in their maturity and in their grasp of their talents. Nita's continuing to get a better grasp on her visionary powers, and the possible ramifications of her exploring different wizardly specializations take on new significance in Games Wizards Play, both in terms of the plot and in terms of what's being set up for the future—which looks dark. I'm filled with curiosity and trepidation to see how her unusual sympathy for the Lone Power (which was literally made a part of her via revising her name in the Speech) plays out in the next book. The Lone Power's slow process of redemption across and beyond time over the course of the series has been one of my favorite through-lines, and even though the Lone One appears only in Nita's prophetic dreams in this book, her willingness to acknowledge its omnipresence becomes a crucial turning point in the Invitational's final round.

Wizardry's emphasis on words, and Duane's mastery of them, must be part of why these books seem to appeal to the nerd's nerds of SFF fans. The absolute unity between science and magic—and quite "hard" science at that—may be another. No sooner do Nita and Kit decide to take a jaunt to the Moon, for example, than they start calculating how much air they'll need to take along in their cylindrical force-field that will keep that air in, and begin rattling off conversion factors to account for having to match their motion through space with that of the Moon to get them on and not into it by accident. Even wizards whose work is almost entirely focused on writing, such as their Senior Tom Swale, take this sort of bedrock science knowledge for granted. In later books Kit struggles with his AP History course, but even fairly advanced knowledge of geophysical processes such as volcanism and seismicity are deployed by all of the wizards without so much as a second guess. Nor is wizardry the solution to all problems—in a memorable scene in A Wizard of Mars, which is itself a loving tribute to and update of much of the Golden Age science fiction set on the red planet, Kit has to deal with the fact that Mars Observer will be able to record visual evidence of the wizardry they're doing on the planet's surface when the satellite passes overhead.

The unity of science and magic also goes a long way towards obviating, or subverting, what may at first appear to be Duane's deploying of some well-worn tropes in terms of Kit and Nita's wizardly specializations: Kit shows a knack for dealing with mechanical things from the first, while Nita develops an early skill for talking with trees, such as the one in her own backyard whose name is Liused, and later develops an affinity with water. But science and Life are ultimately one, too: Dairine, whose hot temper and hotter talents are first turned towards computers, acts as mother to an entire species of silicon-based computer wizards during her Ordeal, so that she later bears the title "Mother of Mobiles." For her part, in The Wizard's Dilemma (2001) Nita becomes a kernel hacker—albeit a hacker of the kernels of universes, planets, and people rather than of operating systems, and she later manifests a strong visionary talent. Kit, meanwhile, is led by his empathy into some of his greatest wizardly triumphs as well as some sticky situations.

The insistent linkage of science and magic also points to the pervasive influence of Madeline L'Engle's books on Young Wizards, particularly the novels about Meg Murry O'Keefe and her family that began with the classic A Wrinkle in Time (1962). There are plot resonances between Meg's adventures and Nita's: the action in A Wizard's Dilemma ultimately recalls that of A Wind in the Door (1973); elements shared with Camazotz confront Kit, Nita, and company in a dark world governed by their Enemy in Wizards at War (2005); and in all the books, and especially the first three, there's the strong sense that the numinous and uncanny are just as close around the corner as is a passage (dare I say, a tesseract) to other worlds in A Wrinkle in Time. Duane's short but heartfelt remembrance of L'Engle after the latter's death in 2011 acknowledged these connections explicitly, and credited L'Engle with the impetus to keep writing more of the books—meaning that fantasy and YA fans owe her a debt twice over.

Other references are easier to spot. Though Duane herself cites the blackout of 1965 as an inspiration for the dark Manhattan into which Kit and Nita stumble in SYWtBaW, on this side of the twentieth century it recalls just as strongly the fears of a dark, depopulated urban nightmare that Rudy Giuliani harnessed in his successful mayoral run. Fifteen years after 9/11, the moment in the first book when all the statues of Manhattan and the trees of Central Park spring to life to defend their city from the encroaching Lone Power, so that Nita and Kit have time to read the description of New York from The Book of Night with Moon (which vouchsafes existence by containing descriptions of everything in existence) to keep the city itself, reduces me to tears in a way that it certainly didn't two decades ago:

Kit was invoking New York, calling it up as one might call up a spirit; and obedient to the summons, it came. The skyline came, unbesmirched by any blackness—a crown of glittering towers in a smoky sunrise, all stabbing points and jeweled windows, precipices of steel and stone. City Hall came, brooding over its colonnades, gazing down in wearing interest at the people who came and went and governed the island through it. The streets came, hot, dirty, crowded, but flowing with voices and traffic and people, bright lifeblood surging through concrete arteries. The parks came, settling into place one by one as they were described, free of the darkness under the night—from tiny paved vest-pocket niches to the lake-set expanses of Central Park, they all came, thrusting the black fog back. Birds sang, dogs ran and barked and rolled in the grass, trees were bright with wary squirrels' eyes. The Battery came, the crumbling old first-defense fort standing peaceful now at the southernmost tip of Manhattan—the rose-gold of some remembered sunset glowed warm on its bricks as it mused in weedy silence over old battles won and nonetheless kept an eye on the waters of the harbor, just in case some British cutter should try for a landing when the colonists weren't looking. (SYWtBaW [NME, 2011], Chap. 9)

Indeed, the books' sense of place and strong insistence on New York as a place worth being in and of itself—and not just New York City, but also the suburbs of Long Island—are remarkable, then and now. I can't think of another series in young adult fantasy that is so resolutely urban, from Long Island to Grand Central Station and the other parts of Manhattan that Kit and Nita are forever popping into by train, worldgate, and transit spell; in many ways the series is never as at home as it is in New York City, as it is for much of Games Wizards Play. Nor is it a coincidence that A Wizard Abroad (1993), the one volume of the series set mainly in the countryside—specifically, rural Ireland, written a few years after Duane herself moved there—is also the flattest.

The Young Wizards also share with L'Engle a willingness to expand the scope of characters far beyond the human or equivalent aliens. Saying that some of my favorite characters in the series are a prophetic macaw and a giant shark is both entirely accurate and entirely revealing about the series and its ethical worldview: the books are quite insistent that humans are not the only sentient, which is to say wizardly, species on Earth (currently, alongside humans, cats and whales are confirmed to be wizardly); even non-sentient objects and lifeforms have their own self-awareness and purposes that serve Life and its ends, just as wizards do. All this means that talking to trees, cars, trains, and planes becomes entirely normal, and by the middle of the series talking to rocks and Kit's family's entertainment system become amusing running bits. Duane excels not just at including these non-human viewpoints but in making them recognizably "other." The ethical awakening of Kit's dog Ponch, who develops decidedly wizard-like talents of his own in the middle four books, is threaded through with Ponch's abiding love for chasing squirrels, even as his worldview complexifies rapidly. Machu Picchu, the scarlet macaw, is still obsessed with peanuts and prone to biting people's ears, even as she's a reliable seer who plays a crucial role in High Wizardry at her own insistence. Ed, the Pale Slayer, the Master Shark, is one of the most singular characters in all of YA literature, and utterly himself, but fiercely comprehensible and sympathetic for all that his worldview is much older and colder than Nita's human one.

Deep Wizardry cover

Deep Wizardry (1985), in which Ed features, is worth mentioning especially; of all the books, it's in many ways the most ineffable and the most perfect. While vacationing at Jones Beach, Nita and Kit agree to take part in reenacting an ancient pelagic wizardry, the Song of the Twelve, which replays the moment when whales and whale-wizards, as a genus, made their Choice about how they would deal with the Lone Power and its gift of death. Most of the book takes place underwater, and Nita and Kit spend far more time as whales than they do as humans above the surface, adding to the novel's subtle strangeness. With Ed, whose role in the Song of the Twelve and in the ocean is to end suffering in the only way that sharks can, and with Nita's interactions with him—and why and how those come about, and their result—Duane taps into veins of magic deeper than the undersea mountain where the action climaxes, leading to exchanges like the following:

"I am no wizard, Nita," Ed said. "The Sea doesn't speak to me as it does to you. I will never experience those high wild joys the Blue sings of—the Sea That Burns, the Voices. The only voices I hear cry out from water that burns with blood. But might I not sometimes wonder what other joys there are?—and wish I might feel them too?"

The dry, remote pain in his voice astonished her. And Nita thought abruptly of that long line of titles in the commentaries in her manual: as if only one shark had ever been Master. Sharks don't die of natural causes, she thought. Could it be that, all these years, there has been just one Master? And all around him, people die and die, and he—can't—

—and wants to? And so he understands how it is to want to get out of something and be stuck with it. (DW, Chap. 11)

Although the Young Wizards are now marketed as YA, the series predates the category as a genre or a marketing designation, and some of its strengths are probably part of the reason that the series has flown under the radar. For one thing, Nita and Kit and Dairine—and many of the other young wizards—have strong relationships with their parents, who by and large aren't dead and aren't horrible, unlike many classics of middle grade and young adult literature. Nita and Kit in fact decide to "come out" as wizards to their parents during the events of Deep Wizardry, and though their parents have their occasional freak-outs about wizardry and its implications for their children, on the whole they recognize their children as people who have their own agency, and acknowledge that the responsibilities they've taken on as wizards sometimes do rightly supersede things like school and homework. None of this means that the wizards and their parents don't disagree, or even argue or fight and get angry with one another, but, where many young adult authors seem reluctant to tackle the realistic complexities of strong, respectful parent-child relationships, Duane isn't. The result is that the events of the series have even more emotional resonance for readers, and for the characters themselves, whether it's Nita and Dairine's mom's cancer diagnosis in the fifth book, or their father's becoming BFFs with an alien wizard king who is also the father of their friend Roshaun by the time Games Wizards Play starts.

Talking of Roshaun leads to the fact that the Young Wizards books are an example of something that is still unusual in the genre: Nita and Kit are two nobody kids from the suburbs of Long Island; neither of them come from wizardly lineages, unlike many of the other young wizard characters, although characters in Games Wizards Play speculate that this means that their family may be "outbreak" wizards, meaning "newly established wizardly families, specifically the kind that occur in clusters, geographically or temporally speaking. There was some conjecture that this clustering might be a reflection of the Powers attempting to solve some problem that was about to arise. But there was no way to prove it one way or the other" (GWP, Chap. 12). Though it does therefore seem clear that the Callahan sisters are the answer to a problem, it's not yet entirely clear what that problem is, or whether it's only one problem, as the Powers are big on the conservation of energy. Regardless, their Seniors are a TV writer and a guy who sells blocks of advertising time for the New York City market. Earth's Planetary is a single mother who lives on the outskirts of Prague and never goes anywhere without her baby and her parakeet. The Power known as the Champion chooses to be corporeal in the forms of an attitudinal parrot and a surly Irish kid from the southern countryside. To be sure, Roshaun is an alien prince from a long line of wizards, but as Dairine reflects at one point in GWP, for Roshaun talking about his background "had been like reciting his credit card number" (GWP, Chap. 13). Being royal for Roshaun and his family is decidedly less important than carrying out the responsibilities to their world that it gives them as wizards—even in the face of their people's sometimes violent ambivalence about that political power.

The other really notable thing about the series is that, as other writers have remarked on, it consistently demonstrates that experience is preferable to innocence. While the series repeatedly reminds us that wizards are never so strong as when they first embark on and survive their Ordeals (if they do), the books consistently show that the experience wizards gain as they continue in their practice almost always trumps raw power. Moreover, the contrast between power and knowledge means that many of the major group wizardries in the series require cross-generational cooperation. Though all the young wizards grapple with the meaning of their diminishing power levels—particularly Dairine, who struggles over the course of the series to figure out who she is once she's no longer a young hotshot, at the ripe old age of thirteen—it's clear that wizardry, and the universe, still have plenty of tasks for older wizards. As they grow older, the ethical complexity of their wizardly tasks grows accordingly; as Tom says in A Wizard of Mars:

"…it's not uncommon for the younger wizard to see the Art, in the early part of his or her practice, as a very stratified thing; all blacks and whites, instead of the shades of grey that start to manifest themselves later in the way you see the world."

"It's not that we're not in a massive battle of good against evil," Carl said. "Of course we are! But that's just one of many ways to characterize the fight." (AWoM, Chap. 16)

All of this is fitting for a series that insists repeatedly not just on the existence of free will but on the ethical obligation to use one's free will and capacity for judgement to make choices. Wizards can become "overshadowed" by choosing to capitulate to the Lone Power, though because wizardry itself is an ethical act, their wizardy leaves them swiftly once they do so. But wizards can and do also lose their wizardry by choosing not to use it, at which point the Art leaves them all the same. Inaction is the real evil of the universe, for entropy is running.

If there's one thing that this attitude is reminiscent of, it's Star Trek. This makes sense on some level—Duane holds the distinction of having written for Star Trek in the most media of any writer—and other aspects of the Young Wizards series are also distinctly reminiscent of Gene Roddenberry's vision, particularly its frequent meditations on death and eternity; the quintessentially Star Trek attitude that choosing death and mortality is always better than immortality makes frequent appearances in the Young Wizards and is written into the Wizard's Oath, in which a wizard swears that "in the practice of my Art, I will put aside fear for courage, and death for life, when it is right to do so—until Universe's end" (SYWtBaW, Prologue). The other aspect of the series that recalls Star Trek is referred to as "the high road:" the intergalactic community of sentient species first introduced in High Wizardry, when Dairine unintentionally shoots up the great galactic transit facility known as the Crossings, and which gradually comes to play an increasingly central role in the books as setting and as a reservoir of allies, friends, and antagonists for the Earth wizards. The exchange wizards who come to visit Earth in Wizard's Holiday roughly resemble, in Earth terms, a giant centipede, a Christmas tree, and an anime protagonist from the bishounen era, but Sker'ret, Filif, and Roshaun quickly become good friends and allies who play central roles in that and later books.

It is entropy, however, that is perhaps the single most constant presence besides that of wizardry itself. The encroaching heat death of the universe is usually represented by the Lone Power it/him/herself, the Power that created Death and entropy out of loneliness and spite and whose ongoing slow transformation is another running theme in the series, beginning when Nita takes the radical step of rewriting the Lone One's name. Entropy is what wizards fight, but of course entropy is also the process of change, by which things become something else. Balancing the impulse to preserve a status quo with the need for Life to sometimes transcend its current plane of existence is a correspondingly large ethical challenge for the wizards; it comes up when Nita's mom is diagnosed with cancer in The Wizard's Dilemma and recurs again in various forms, most explicitly thus far in Wizard's Holiday, which finds Nita and Kit working for change and Life against the stasis into which their host planet's dominant species has fallen, in an uneasy alliance with the Lone One.

High Wizardry cover

Entropy is also running outside the books, of course—as is its handmaiden change, and in particular technological change: since Nita and Kit's debut in 1983, the digital transformation of daily life has only accelerated, and the world of telephone cords and subway tokens now seems very distant even to those who grew up in it. For readers currently in the YA target market it can evidently be unimaginably remote, and Duane has spoken about how the outdated analog technology of the early books has proven off-putting for some prospective readers. This phenomenon of something being too recent to be vintage but too old to be likable is what Alexander Rose of the Long Now Foundation has called "the trough of being uncool:" if a building (or a book series) can make it through the first generation or so after its construction, in which it's out of fashion, it can often be preserved as significant thereafter. Buildings have to find their own advocates; Duane, for her part, responded to the challenge of the series' aging technology (and infamously inconsistent timeline) by rewriting and rereleasing the first nine books of the series in what she dubbed New Millennium Editions from 2011-13. Not only do they more or less settle the timeline of events and the characters' ages (sometimes radically so; in the print books until Games Wizards Play, Nita and Kit are a year apart, but as of this book, they're now the same age and Kit is just in advanced courses), they also rewrite whole sections of most of the books.

Writing in Slate, Sophia Nguyen judged that the changes of the New Millennium Editions made Duane's writing "feel overly tidy, smoothing out its stranger wrinkles." Frankly, having read the New Millennium Editions of all nine books, I have to wonder whether Nguyen read any of them before making this pronouncement, because the texts as e-books are anything but perfect: despite the stated goal of straightening out the series' infamously tangled timeline, a few uncorrected and now obviously wrong age references still linger, while obvious Irishisms have now been introduced into the books that were the most heavily rewritten, particularly High Wizardry. There are also quite a few typos, particularly in the later texts, some of which are OCR errors that have survived since Duane used pirated copies of her books as the base ebook text to save herself some work. (She's recently said that newer versions of the books will zap these lingering errors once and for all.) New York City has changed a lot too, with the result that some lines are now time's orphans; there's no real way to make sense of Harry Callahan telling his daughters to stay out of Times Square in High Wizardry if the action is set in 2011 rather than in 1990, unless he really hates tourists.

But these minor flaws are ultimately cosmetic. The point is not that the NME texts are imperfect; as the epigraph to So You Want to Be a Wizard states, all books need at least one flaw, lest readers never be able to leave them. The NME texts have taken already excellent books and made them different, and in most cases, even better. While the technology references are the most obvious, they are also ultimately less central; it's changes like the alterations to the depiction of Darryl's autism in A Wizard Alone (NME, 2013) or of the dark matter expansion in Wizards at War (NME, 2013), both of which have now been rewritten to match the current science—and, in the case of autism, to more closely reflect the experiences of people with autism as they themselves have written about them since the book was published—that make these books stronger and more affecting. In a few of the earlier installments there are now passing references to concepts developed in later books, increasing the already strong impression of Duane's phenomenal control as a writer, not only at the level of sentences and chapters but of the series as a whole. Things introduced in the first book come back around and play a large role in the ninth and tenth. Throwaway remarks in Deep Wizardry are proven to have real meaning on Mars and elsewhere in more recent volumes. As befits a series that argues for fighting entropy, there aren't many lines in any of the books that aren't doing double or even triple duty, particularly in the first four books, which were written before Harry Potter proved that children and teens would and could read books longer than 80,000 words.

As well as being a fascinating experiment in self-publishing, the NME texts are a worthy achievement on Duane's part; but nor is it the case that the NME texts have supplanted the print texts, which in most countries are still being set from the original versions. One of the charms of the series in print has always been watching Nita, Kit, Dairine, and their friends slowly growing older as the world ages around them at a much more rapid pace, and the NME texts cannot obviate that experience which the physical books provide. For those who ignore the existence of the New Millennium Editions, the changes in characters' ages and the dates of the past books' events in Games Wizard Play will simply be more of the same timeline confusion, albeit that these latest inconsistencies will stick. Much like wizardry, the NME texts are there for those that want them, and they aren't hurting anyone else.

Duane has something of a reputation in certain circles for writing books that are "life-affirming," as if this were a bad thing in genres famous for (among other things) grimdark and dystopias, but the fact remains nonetheless that the books are life-affirming, both figuratively and concretely: wizardry is a choice, and Nita and Kit and their friends keep making it, even in the face of some of the most difficult things life can impose on anyone, wizard or not, and in the face of challenges that only wizards must confront. The pain and the struggles are worth it, not because they don't matter, but because they are part of Life, and because the reward—whether it's a brief glimpse of Timeheart, the reality at the heart of all realities where death is not, or just the knowledge that they've stood up for Life and made things go a little righter, a little truer, in their universe—is sufficient, and because magic doesn't end with childhood. Ultimately, for all the length and wonder of the young wizards' adventures so far, they are still only beginning.


  1. A note on the texts: the publication dates given for each book are their original print publication, but all quotations come from the ebook New Millennium Editions. Similarly, Games Wizards Play is officially the tenth book in the series, as the self-published Interim Errantry (2016) is #9.5. [return]

Electra Pritchett lives in Tokyo, where she splits her time between reading, research, and her obsession with birds and parfait. She blogs at

Electra Pritchett is a lapsed historian who splits her time between reading, research, and her obsession with birds and parfait. Born in New Jersey, she has lived on three continents and her studies have ranged from ancient Rome to modern Japan. She blogs at
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