Mark Reads ‘So You Want to Be a Wizard’: Chapter 4

In the fourth chapter of So You Want to Be a Wizard, I can’t. I just can’t. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards. 

Trigger Warning: For death of a pet (dog)

What book have you gotten me to read? What have you done to me?

“I don’t think I busted anything,” Kit said, slow and uncertain. “I hurt all over. Fred, what about you?”

The Sun is gone, Fred said, sounding absolutely horrified.

GREAT. WHAT A GREAT START TO THIS CHAPTER. THERE IS LITERALLY NO SUN IN THIS UNIVERSE. And look, I figured that this meant that they’d been pulled into that hellish version of Manhattan that had given them Fred, but STILL. I wasn’t exactly comforted just because I recognized what nightmare they were in.

Nita got up on her knees too, then caught sight of a bit of glitter lying a few feet away and grabbed at it happily. It was her pen, none the worse for wear.

Remember when this was about Nita and Joanne and bullying and discovering a book about becoming a wizard and it was all cute and stuff

do you remember


Because the resolution of the sole conflict up to this point is so insignificant in comparison with everything else that Duane only spends one paragraph talking about it. That is how messed up this has gotten.

Frowning buildings hunched themselves against the oppressive, slaty sky. Traffic moved, but very little of it, and it did so in the dark. Few headlights or taillights showed anywhere. The usual bright stream of cars and trucks and buses was here only dimly seen motion and a faint sound of snarling engines.

And the sky! It wasn’t clouded over; it wasn’t night. It was empty. Just a featureless grayness, hanging too low, like a ceiling.

It’s only now hitting me, and that’s always interesting to me. Sometimes, a detail or a twist won’t jump out at me while I’m reading a chapter on video. It takes a second journey through the text to see something new. In this specific case, I am now aware that this bit means that people live in this version of Manhattan. I had mistakenly believed from the last visit that it was devoid of people. Obviously, someone had built the buildings they’d seen, but I figured that humanity had somehow gotten wiped out by the dark, oppressive force that had taken over Manhattan. No, THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THIS HORRIBLE, AWFUL WORLD.

More on that in a bit, since I will need to wonder very loudly about the implications of this chapter. See, my brain went like this:

Oh, okay, so there’s people here. Someone must have either known or sensed people coming through the worldgate. That is what the helicopter is doing.

Why is it so close? Maybe they want to kidnap Nita and Kit.

Hey, so it looks strange, but that’s understandable. It’s a parallel universe. Everything can’t look the same. Case in point: NO SUN OR STARS.


Oh wait.

Oh my god I was so wrong.


The “skids” were doubled-back limbs of metal like those of a praying mantis, cruelly clawed. Under what should have been the helicopter’s “bubble,” sharp dark mandibles worked hungrily – and as the chopper heeled over and came about, those faceted eyes looked at Kit and Nita with the cold, businesslike glare reserved for helpless prey.

The helicopter is alive. The helicopter is alive.

WHO THOUGHT OF THIS? WHO APPROVED IT? NOW I’M GOING TO HAVE NIGHTMARES EVERY TIME I SEE ONE OF THESE THINGS. But you know what? Bravo, Diane Duane, for doing something this bold and weird and creepy. Because if you’re going to send these kids into an alternate Manhattan, and you want them to understand that it is absolutely unlike the world they know, then KILLER, SENTIENT HELICOPTERS is the way to fucking go. I say this because this very technique is something I used in my own novel. I wanted to move into a very strange world, and the second draft gave birth to The Thing, which has hurt the brains of all my editors/beta readers. I know part of that comes from my love of The X-Files and The Twilight Zone. For better or for worse, both shows often pushed the limits of what they could include in their stories. The same goes for Ursula K. LeGuin and China Mieville, who have had a HUGE influence on my storytelling.

The best part? This is not even the weirdest thing Diane Duane does:

Inside, hidden amid the trash and broken glass, was what seemed to be a rude nest built of scraps of metal and wire. In the nest were three baby helicopters, none more than two feet long. They stared fiercely at Kit and Nita from tiny faceted eyes like their parent’s, and threatened with little jabbing forelegs, whirring with rotors too small to lift them yet. Sharing the nest with the fledglings was the partially stripped skeleton of a dog.

Baby helicopters. Sentient, killer baby helicopters.

Welcome to Young Wizards, I suppose. EVERYTHING IS TRYING TO EAT YOU.

I’m glad to have been able to grasp at least ONE bit of this story: the initial spell pulled Kit and Nita to this world on purpose, and now it’s clear why that is. They discover that the Book of Night with Moon is being held somewhere in this dark, awful Manhattan. There are no accidents, Peach had said, and now we know why that’s the case. This book has to be taken back home, inasmuch as it has a home, that is. So did the book itself bring these three characters to this Manhattan? Is it trying to save itself, or is there something else at work here? What if the Destroyer, who Kit speaks of here, is actually the one behind all of this? Can we also definitively state that the Destroyer is the worst spoil sport of all time? What kind of being is so bitter that it destroys all the stars because it can’t have what it wants?

Anyway, the conflict of this book has changed, and it’s goddamn thrilling. These newly-minted wizards are going to steal The Book Which is Not Named in order to best locate The Book of Night with Moon, and they’re going to navigate the DARKEST TIMELINE Manhattan in order to do so. Not so bad, right?

Kit was sucking on his finger, looking pained. “Bit me!” he said, removing the finger to examine it. It bled.

“I get the feeling,” Nita said slowly, “that there’s not much here that’s friendly.”

Okay, okay, so doorknobs can bite you in this world. That’s creepy and unnerving, but not the worst thing imaginable. That specific scene helped me to formulate a theory that in this world, inanimate objects were truly alive, and they all hated intelligent humans. (Are there intelligent humans in this world? Apparently, the Destroyer was opposed to their existence, so would it have even allowed them?)


Pale yellow-brown light flickered down the street, got brighter. A second later, with a snarl of its engine, a big yellow Checker Cab hurled itself past them, staring in front of it with headlight-eyes burned down to yellow threads of filament – eyes that looked somehow as if they could see.

I saw no mention of a driver. That cab WAS ALIVE AND DROVE ITSELF. What the hell????

Nothing moved anywhere, except far up Park, where another pair of dimly glowing yellow eyes waited at a corner.

No. No. I can’t NOPE this enough! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME???

The lightning-stroke of motion not six feet away knocked the amusement right out of them. What had seemed a perfectly ordinary fire hydrant, dull yellow, with rust stains and peeling paint, suddenly cracked open and shot out a long, pale, ropy tongue like a toad’s. The pigeon never had a chance. Hit side on, the bird made just one strangled gobbling noise before the tongue was gone again, too fast to follow, and the wide horizontal mouth it came from was closed again. All that remained to show that anything had happened was a slight bulge under the metallic-looking skin of the fire hydrant. The bulge heaved once and was still.

I’m done. I will leave this book right here, and I will get as far away from it as possible because I WAS NOT READY FOR ONE BIT OF THIS WORLD. Let me be real, though: I love a good horror sequence, and Duance’s absurdist take on parallel universes is PERFECT FOR ME. So I AM RUSHING THROUGH THIS LENGTHY REVIEW BECAUSE I DESPERATELY NEED TO READ THE NEXT CHAPTER. Why? Because I want to know why CABS ARE TRYING TO KILL KIT AND NITA. What is wrong with this world???

Everything, my friends. Everything.

Diane Duane is still offering a massive discount on the first 9 books in the Young Wizards series just to this community, so please take advantage of this deal while you still can:

Mark Links Stuff

– I will be at numerous conventions in 2016! Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be Death Note and Neon Genesis Evangelion. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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