Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Deep Wizardry

Diane Duane
Completed 2/4/2014, Reviewed 2/4/2014
2 stars

I read this book for my SF book club’s February selection.  I’m not a connoisseur of young adult SF/fantasy, but have read some.  The other contender for February, another YA novel, was “Sorcery and Cecelia” by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.  That book was wonderful, so much so that I read the second book in the series and have the third one waiting in the wings.  “Deep Wizardry” in comparison was, well, meh.

The book is about Nita and Kit, two young and relatively new wizards.  In their second adventure (this is the second book in the series), the two youngsters meet some sea mammals on their summer vacation on Long Island.  One, a whale named S’reee, invites them to join her and 9 others in a whale song ritual that must be performed to stop a terrible evil emerging from the ocean depths.  If not stopped, this evil, which is already having effects on land as well as in the water, will destroy the tri-state area, and eventually, engulf the world.  Nita and Kit take an oath to perform the ritual, only to find out that what they’ve promised to do is more dangerous than they ever could have imagined.

My big problem with the book is that the whole good and evil myth of the whales is way too close to Christian myth.  From the temptation by the evil one to the blood sacrifice of the savior, it was so obvious it was almost too painful to read.  I think the problem was that rather than let the imagery come through the whole narrative, it’s dumped on the reader in one expositional scene.  Maybe the author wrote it this way because she felt that young readers wouldn’t get something subtle.  Maybe she thought she had to hit them over the heads with it.  Maybe that’s what you have to do with young readers.  Or maybe she just made a bad decision. 

This exposition comes early in the book, and it set me in an overly critical mood for a most of the first half.  I wasn’t even excited with the appearance of Nita and Kit’s two mentors, Tom and Carl.  They’re a gay couple (yaaay!) with a parrot named Machu Picchu who can tell the future (uuugh).  She wrote this book in 1985, a time when gay characters did not appear much in YA literature.  “Heather Has Two Mommies” and “Losing Uncle Tim” wouldn’t even be published for another four years.  So I have to give props to Diane Duane for creating the characters. 

I finally began to get more involved in the book with the introduction of the Master Shark.  This deliciously sly and possibly malevolent character must be a part of the song ritual.  While preparing for the ritual, Nita has several interactions with Ed (yeah, I know, but it’s actually short for a really long, barely pronounceable name).  Through this, Ed emerges as the most complex and profound character in the story.  I really liked Ed.  He kept me from tossing the book half-way through, and saved it from getting a lower rating. 

As the time for the ritual approaches, the book does become exciting.  The ritual has grave dangers, and I became caught in how Nita and Kit were going to survive.  By the way, that’s not a spoiler.  After all, there are seven more installments after this one.  And Nita’s wrestling with her commitment to do the right thing at a potential great cost to herself helps make her a little less of a cardboard cutout of a kid. 

I decided on two stars for this book.  It was decent, but it didn’t want me to follow their further adventures in the next book, let alone for seven more.  If you can make your way through the first half, the rest isn’t too bad.  

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