This is not the kind of book that I read when I was a kid. It’s not quite the kind of book that I prefer to read right now. Despite that, I enjoyed it.
In terms of age range, Cosmic is definitely middle grade. I can see why it is called sci fi, but I think that classification is misleading when compared with other middle grade science fiction. With an allowance made for several advancements beyond current technology, this story is fundamentally about our own world—and the few pieces of advanced technology that are present don’t change that.
The writing honestly made me uncomfortable, and didn’t pull me in right away; the story moves slowly, and from the beginning I felt a looming sense of dread due to the effective foreshadowing. I wonder whether readers of the intended age would feel differently. Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, for example, is famously fun for kids and terrifying for adults… perhaps Cosmic is similar?
I don’t mean to say that the book is bad: it’s actually quite good, once you get into it. But it’s slow and meditative, and it took a while to grow on me. Also, when it did finally grow on me, I felt like I was appreciating it very specifically as an adult; that’s quite distinct from how I’ve felt about some other good middle grade sci fi I’ve read recently. Perhaps a reader less invested in the adventure fiction that I loved as a kid would be more interested in Cosmic. Or maybe I’m just not the right kind of kid inside to really enjoy this book.
If you want a meditation on growing up, the arbitrariness of childhood and adulthood, feelings of connection and responsibility, and maybe just a little bit of space, Cosmic is a good book for you. If you want something fast paced and snappy, I suggest you look elsewhere.
Yes, that is a truly massive shark. The cover of the version that I read had something to do with a whale, but I like this one better. I thought I’d already reviewed this book, and it was only as I was sitting down to write my review of the next one in the series that I checked back through my previous posts and found that I was wrong. So before I tell you my thoughts on High Wizardry, let me tell you how I felt about Deep Wizardry.
The quick and dirty version is as follows: Diane Duane is good at her job, and she knows how to write books about young children taking on incredible responsibilities and facing overwhelming decisions… Which is a decent description of growing up, when I think about it. Of course, most of us aren’t given access to powerful magical forces except in a metaphorical sense. Deep Wizardry, like So You Want To Be A Wizard, is quality children’s literature; I’ll even go further and say that it’s good enough to merit your attention and reflection too, child or not.
With the exception of the “I think I read most of this before” section, my review of Deep Wizardry really is very similar to my review of So You Want To Be A Wizard. I’m still more than a little bit in awe of Duane, she still writes excellent YA adventure with exceptionally mature themes, and she still does an incredibly good job of not talking down to her audience. What I hadn’t really appreciated before is just how well her chosen storyline and protagonists map onto the experience of going through puberty and becoming an adult. Call me stupid, call me slow, but though I noticed it in the first book I took another book or two to finally decide that it was more than just a fortuitous construction of the moment. This, of course, has simply left me more appreciative of Duane’s writing chops, and her choice of subject material.
I’m more than a little bit in awe of Diane Duane. It’s been a while since I read something of hers, and I’d forgotten how good she was at her chosen profession. Though the genre is no longer quite so thinly populated as it was when this book first came out, I still think that Duane outdoes the young wizard competition. When it comes to books about serious young people dealing with serious (if fantastical) problems, she’s totally on top of it. Admittedly, I’m not the most experienced judge for this particular sub-genre, but Duane is worth reading if you like YA literature that doesn’t talk down to its readers.
So You Want To Be A Wizard follows two young newly-sworn-in wizards who are facing their very first duties, which include slowing down the entropic death of the universe and generally trying to make the world a better place. You know, the usual. As you might expect from a story with protagonists devoted to such expansive duties, they don’t have an easy time of things and quickly end up in way over their heads. I admire the depth of the goals Duane sets in front of her characters, as it seems as though they never lack for things to do. This also means that they’re facing things that are profoundly scary and difficult to deal with, which turns out to be the perfect recipe for excitement and wonderfully climactic scenes.
Without spoiling anything, I think I can safely say that this book is an excellent adventure with exceptionally mature themes for a YA story. The themes are more cosmically oriented than those of many other YA books that I’ve seen recently, with an emphasis on the broad scope of a story that I normally associate with epics; I admire the way in which Duane manages to include an epic scope even as she keeps the story (and its narration) very personal. It takes considerable skill to see that through, and Duane clearly has it. If you enjoy epics, YA stories, modern fantasy, or anything similar, I expect that you’ll like this book.
Ok, so I have an odd story about my history with this book…