So You Want to Be a Wizard

by Diane Duane

Cover image

Series: Young Wizards #1
Publisher: Harcourt
Copyright: 1983
Printing: 1996
ISBN: 0-15-216250-X
Format: Mass market
Pages: 386

Buy at Powell's Books

Nita finds a book entitled So You Want to Be a Wizard in the career section of the library and is delighted with the idea. She is one of the few who will even notice the book, proving that she has the potential to be a wizard and understand the hidden magic in the world. At first, she cares mostly about protecting herself against the bullies who constantly pick on her, but she meets another boy who is also learning to be a wizard, they both take the pledge together, and they're then thrown into a struggle against the forces of evil with a small pin-prick of a white hole as a sidekick.

This is very clearly young adult fare from the first page, starring protagonists early in their teenage years, a simple plot, clear-cut sides of good and evil, and a pointed lesson in power, responsibility, compassion, and rising above people who were tormenting you. It is the first book of Duane's famous Young Wizards series; set in a world just like ours, but where magic goes on outside the notice of everyone else. People don't notice it, or if they do, they invent other explanations for it, or don't remember it quite properly. And the magicians have a sacred trust: to fight, as best they can, the forces of entropy and darkness and secure for Life as much time as it can have.

Simple it may be, but Duane doesn't write down to her reader. There are real choices for the heroes, some resulting in real loss and heart-ache, and glimmers of a satisfying underlying philosophy peek through the edges of the background. Much of the book is taken up by a nightmarish adventure through an alternate New York, full of evil machines come alive. What saves them, in addition to bits of magic obtained through treating their natural surroundings with respect, is a willingness to extend sympathy and understanding to even apparent enemies. Not the deepest moral exploration in the history of literature, but it works, as do the beautiful moments in Timeheart, the center of Duane's magical universe.

Most people will likely start here with this series, and as a first book it's a readable juvenile with a few notable plot holes. My first contact with this universe, on the other hand, was through Duane's exceptional adult fantasy novel, The Book of Night with Moon, set in the same universe. The Book of Night with Moon is a much better book in every respect, except possibly for very young readers or cat haters, and much of the fun of So You Want to Be a Wizard for me was remembering parts of the other book. I was also therefore not baffled by the assignment of such a dangerous mission to untested wizards even though senior wizards were around, nor by some of the ways magic was fit into the world. These points are left unexplained here, likely to the confusion of first-time readers, but get explanations (if sometimes still hand-waving ones) in Duane's adult series.

My recommendation is to read The Book of Night with Moon first if you haven't already. If you love the world shown in that book, this is good, if not exceptional, light reading that lets you revisit it. If you don't like it, I doubt you'll like this either. I think that, due to the unexplained holes, this book is weaker if you don't already have the world background, even though it's a much earlier book.

Still, regardless of the order of reading, it's readable, well-paced, occasionally mildly amusing, and surprisingly moving at the end. Mildly recommended.

Followed by Deep Wizardry.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-09-11

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21