© Diane Duane, illustration © Greg Swearingen.
It’s been a while since I read the first book in Diane Duane’s young Wizard series, “So You Want To Be A Wizard,” so I thought I’d revisit her series by reading this, the second book. Since I didn’t remember a lot about the first one (except that I liked it), I was curious to see, first of all, if I’d be brought up to speed on the characters quickly, and I was. That was well done without a lot of expository lumps of text.
Nita and Kit, the young wizards, are on vacation with Nita’s parents on the beach in Southampton, Long Island, New York. Their difficult initiation in the first book, with the help of a wizards’ handbook that reminds me a bit of Carl Barks’ Junior Woodchucks guidebook, continues here as they are contacted by a group of sea mammals: whales and dolphins, who need magical help with a mighty spell. Offshore, in the deep ocean, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are being stirred by an evil force known as the Lone Power, and if not stopped, they will soon threaten the nearby coast and the millions of people in New York City. Nita agrees to participate in the magic working, but somehow doesn’t realize that means her own life will be sacrificed until she’s already spoken the oath of agreement. She and Kit are turned into whales themselves and taken into training for the ritual, and to meet the other participants, and all the while Nita and Kit are in turmoil over her oath. If she breaks it, the Lone Power will triumph, and the destruction of the coast is assured. Kit wants to take her place, but that’s not allowed either.
Meanwhile, back at their vacation home, Nita and Kit are getting into ever increasing trouble with Nita’s parents as they keep staying out in the water on their training missions way beyond their curfew. This finally comes to a head when Nita realizes she has to tell her family the truth, and when they don’t believe her, prove it to them.
The themes of this book are familiar: teen magic users discovering their powers, dealing with moral and family issues, battling dark magic, teaming with magical allies. But the settings and characters are unique, especially the trip down underwater from the coast to the deep ocean to the place where the magic must be performed. The aquatic animal characters (including Nita and Kit when transformed) are fascinating, with the amoral King Shark being particularly interesting. What sets this fantasy apart from many others is the combination of well-researched animal biology and undersea terrain combined with magic. The lead characters are also complex and interesting, and the plot kept me guessing until nearly the end. Recommended, but probably best read after the first book. I’ll be looking for more of the series, too.