Mark Reads ‘So You Want to Be a Wizard’: Chapter 5

In the fifth chapter of So You Want to Be a Wizard, I can’t even believe what this book has become. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards. 

(Regarding trigger warnings: I don’t actually know if this chapter deserves one; I thought maybe for body horror or unreality, but I’m not aware of any triggers surrounding sentient, murdering inanimate objects. However, if there’s a trigger you’d love for me to incorporate, please let me know!)

You know what I love about this book? A lot of things, okay. A LOT OF THEM. I’m going to talk about quite a few of them, but let’s just start here: I don’t know how to describe it all yet. I can’t give an easy summary, and that’s because I wouldn’t want to leave anything out of it. Someone would have to know about the bullying, about the pen, about the discovery of wizardry, about the parallel worlds and Fred, and somehow, I’d also have to convey the absolute wacky terror of Destroyer Manhattan. How do I do all of that succinctly? I can’t. There’s just so much here. And for a book that’s deliberately dense, it reads INCREDIBLY FAST. The pace in this recent stretch is incredible, and I’m just blown away by what’s been happening.

It’s fun to imagine all of this in a darker Manhattan, too, and while I’m certainly not a native by any means, I know these streets that Duane uses in chapter five. I just recently walked up Madison from just north of Times Square in November!!! THIS IS ALL SO REAL TO ME. Well, real in the sense that I recognize the general setting where Duane has placed, but I absolutely do not recognize anything like this:

Kit and Nita crouched together in the shadow of a doorway, two wary darknesses and a dim light, watching the traffic that went by. Mostly cabs prowled past, wearing the same hungry look as the one that had wounded Kit. Or a sullen truck might lumber by, or a passenger car, looking uneasy and dingy and bitter. None of the cars or trucks had drivers, or looked like they wanted them. They ignored the traffic lights, and their engines growled.

Actually, that kind of sounds exactly like Manhattan traffic, but THAT’S AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT POINT. This world is familiar, but in an unnerving, violent way. In another context, I might recognize the dynamic we see here. It feels like Kit and Nita are sneaking through a dangerous jungle filled with ravenous wild animals, except THEY’RE ALL CARS. CARS. Well, and one carnivorous fire hydrant, but thankfully that little demon is nowhere to be found. So Duane utilities familiar tropes – like helping a wild animal with a thorn in its paw – and applies them to one of the WEIRDEST things I have ever, ever read in my whole life. Somehow, it works. Somehow, she’s crafted a world where I believe that inanimate vehicles can be the scariest predators imaginable.

Thus, the car “crash” scene is tense and bewildering. It’s like an urban version of a kill between a lion and their prey. But cars. Even Kit’s behavior fits the trope BUT IT’S ALL CARS. Y’all, if you described this to someone without any context, they would laugh you right into this parallel reality. BUT IT’S SO GOOD!!! While I am certainly excited to see if Nita’s specialty in magic will be used (IN SUPER DARK CENTRAL PARK), I found Kit’s scenes to be beautifully touching. The guy manages to coax a car (which, like other vehicles in this world, despises humans on sight) into letting him help it. Now, it doesn’t end like Kit or Nita (or me, for that matter) expect it to; the car races off without a thanks or any sign that it’s appreciative of what Kit did. But Kit wasn’t in this to gain a new friend or ally. As he puts it:

“Doesn’t really matter, I guess. It was hurting; fixing it was the right thing to do.”

Well, my heart certainly was not ready for that. Even in a frightening, unbelievable situation such as this, Kit can still recognize what’s right. I love that.

But let’s talk about the building with the Book in it. There’s a lot that speaks to Duane’s talent with building suspense. She exploits our sense of the unknown to make us terrified of whatever might be lurking around the next corner. Even if there might be elements of this Manhattan that are familiar, it’s still not comforting by any means. So as the trio crept into the massive skyscraper in order to locate the Book, I kept expecting the worst. I had to! If cars and hydrants were sentient and murderous, what else could turn against them? The elevators? The stairs? THERE IS NO LIMIT TO HOW HORRIBLE THIS WORLD CAN BE. And really, the perytons that do pour out of the elevators are like… basic scary shit compared to what comes after.

Because y’all, there was not a cell in my body that was ready for what these characters would find sitting behind the receptionist desk on the top floor of this building.

It was hard to know what to call it. Kit and Nita, peering around the corner, were silent with confusion and fear. The thing sitting in a secretary’s swivel chair and typing away at a fancy programmable keyboard in front of a huge flatscreen monitor was dark-green and warty, and sat about four feet high in the chair. It had limbs with tentacles and claws, all knotted together under a big eggplant-shaped head, and goggly, wicked eyes.

Okay. All right. This is the world I now have to deal with. We go from horrors that are at least a bit familiar – helicopters and hydrants and cars – to… well, whatever this thing is. Their name is Akthanath! I know that much! Otherwise? What the hell is that creature?

But here’s what I wanted to lead to. Diane Duane takes us through a bizarre, unsettling, and downright terrifying vision of Manhattan, bringing us face-to-face (sort of) with the Destroyer, who sounds just like that power thing described much earlier in the book, the one who was bitter and resentful and hates everything. I’m fairly certain that’s who this is, and I expected… well, something gross and visceral, I guess.

Nita stared at him, confused, as he picked up the phone. A businessman, young, maybe thirty, and very handsome – red-gold hair and a clean-lined, high-cheekboned face above a trim, dark three-piece suit. This was the Witherer, the Kindler of Wildfires, the one who decreed darkness, the Starsnuffer?

Duane takes us through the gamut of monsters, and gives us her main antagonist… and they’re a dude. Just a normal dude who you can see thousands upon thousands of in Manhattan on any day of the week, any week of the year. Obviously, that’s just the form he takes, and I don’t imagine that something as powerful as the Witherer actually looks like this. But isn’t that symbolic? Isn’t that a dreadfully powerful statement to make this character just some ordinary, handsome guy?

I can’t claim to understand everything going on here, especially concerning the conversation that we overhear between the Destroyer and “Michael.” WHO IS MICHAEL? But I can guess that this world is where the Destroyer lives now. He runs it, and the darkness in Manhattan is due to his literal lack of power. No electricity, no stars. And he speaks of Them – the other powers, I’m guessing? – as if They sent him to this place, and now, none of Them will talk to him anymore. (Apparently, the Destroyer is still bitter and resentful. WHO IS SURPRISED.) Unfortunately for Kit and Nita, he thinks that their entrance into this world was part of some secret infiltration. HE HAS NO IDEA THAT THEY JUST WANTED TO GET A PEN BACK.

So, with the Book in their possession, and with the Destroyer vaguely aware of their presence, and with perytons most likely on their tail, the trio set out to find The Book of Night with Moon. Oh god, they’re heading for Central Park, and I still can’t fathom what this book has become, and it’s all just a whirlwind of terror and wonder. Holy shit, y’all, this is so good.

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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