Games Wizards Play by Diane Duane. ★★★1/2
Games Wizards Play is the tenth book in the Young Wizards series, which starts with So You Want to Be a Wizard. I generally really like this series, but I think this installment has structural issues. If I had to guess, I’d say that a lot of Games Wizards Play is setting up for a future book.
Games Wizards Play centers around the Invitational, a planet wide event where young wizards compete in what’s essentially a magical science fair. Nita, Kit, and Dairine are all invited to be mentors to students in the competition. Nita and Kit are given Penn Shao-Feng, who’s working on a solar spell and who’s also a complete jerk. Dairine is assigned Mehrnaz Farrahi, a shy fourteen year old Iranian girl with a plan to stop earthquakes in their tracks and a whole heap of problems from her wizardly family. The book shifts between the perspectives of Nita, Kit, and Dairine.
My largest problem with Games Wizards Play is that it felt anti-climatic. There were essentially four sources of tension in the book: Nita and Kit dealing with that sexist jerk Penn, Dairine trying to figure out what was going on with Mehrnaz, Nita having creepy prophetic dreams, and this underlying thread of awkwardness and confusion about the change in Nita and Kit’s relationship status. None of them were pulled off in an entirely satisfactory manner, although the Mehrnaz subplot came the closest. The resolution to the Penn plot line was definitely unsatisfactory, and I don’t feel like he had the character growth I was expecting or really saw any sort of consequences for his behavior.
It felt like Games Wizards Play was relying on the prophetic dreams for a large source of its tension, but I don’t think they actually had anything to do with the climax (or if they did, I don’t get how). This is what makes me think that it’s setting up for a future book.
Something else that might play into the “future book” syndrome is that there were a number of newer characters who were being treated like something the readers should care about when we’re not actually given any reason to care about them. Foremost among these is Lissa who had a number of bit scenes but didn’t really do anything. It’s possible that the scene were she tells Nita she’s asexual might have been part of some greater theme Duane was working with in regards to the whole Nita/Kit thing? It’s hard for me to tell – full confession, I didn’t want them to become girlfriend/boyfriend. Also, when I heard there was going to be an asexual character, I was sort of assuming that they’d be relevant to the book? What I got was way less exciting. Anyway, I saw Duane say on tumblr that Lissa would be important “later” so I’m guessing that was the primary reason for her inclusion. It’s possible that I will like her once she becomes plot relevant.
Given that I spent the last three paragraphs talking about everything I didn’t like about the book, I should point out that I still enjoyed reading it, despite my problems with the ending. I still love all the central characters, there some humorous moments, and the magic remains inventive. I ended up reading this six hundred page book in less than twenty-four hours.
While I can’t shake the feeling that Games Wizards Play is set up for things to come, I am glad that I read it.