In the second half of the eleventh chapter of A Wizard Abroad, the wizards find their battle. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of warfare, blood, gore.
At the same time, the remainder of this chapter is not enough and too much. AT THE SAME TIME. I expected a bigger battle, only to find out that it’s being pushed into the last chapter. Yet this is still a visceral and frightening experience, and one of the things Duane relies on here is the disconnect the audience might feel from the action. Up to this point, aside from the sole appearance of the drows in Bray, most of the action has been hinted at. Yes, Nita has slipped sideways a few times, but the battle itself has always been an idea. We’ve had the myth passed along to us, we know why it’s important to the history of Ireland, and we’re well aware of the stakes. I never once disbelieved any of it.
However, it’s easy to feel detached from the reality of this struggle because we can’t see the enemy. We can’t conceptualize what this battle will be like. And once the wizards make it to this specific world, it’s dark, it’s frightening, and EVERYTHING IS AN UNKNOWN. When the first wave of Fomori hits, it’s tense… for like a paragraph or two. It’s a feint, surely, yet even with such an attack, Duane reminds us how real this is:
“Oh, no,” Kit said softly. “Not already.”
She looked where he was looking. Off to their left a young woman was lying, loose-limbed and pale, like a broken doll thrown down. There were several drows lying in pieces by her, but it was no consolation, seeing they were spattered with that shade of red so bright even in this dim light that it looked fake. Nita shuddered, for experience had shown her over time that that “fake look” was a sure sign it was the real thing.
There’s a pervasive theme across this book and specifically in this chapter about the concept of realness. We saw it before when Nita and Kit visited the queen of the Sidhe, and indeed, I’d argue that Nita’s early experiences with the sideways shifts were a deconstruction of what she considered real. But here, it’s fascinating to see how Duane takes us out of the action once the second wave hits. The first time, the narration was limited to Nita’s direct and present experience. But the second wave sees this happening:
Nita had a great deal of difficulty remembering the fighting later.
And then, in the next paragraph:
The other problem was the screaming. At the time it didn’t bother Nita particularly; later on she found herself wondering whether there was something to the claim that people got inured to violence by watching too much TV. Everything seemed remote, like something in the crowd scene from a movie.
Nita and Duane detach. They view things from outside themselves or outside the text. And I get it! This battle felt so much more violent than what I was used to in these books, so it made sense to me that Nita would experience it differently. The injuries she witnesses on other wizards – which I won’t quote here just because they’re so gory – are what snap her back to battle itself. It’s real to her now, and I thought that was an effective technique on Duane’s part.
That’s not to suggest that this doesn’t feel fantastical; the combination of the varied wizardries and the amazing appearance of the Sidhe still keeps this within the realm of fantasy. But Duane’s fantasy has a gritty edge to it (which is not the same as grim, for the record), so I appreciate that her books contain moments of reflection like this. The same goes for the break before the last charge towards the Lone One. Y’all, people in this series talk to each other. They consult each other about techniques, about the realities of doing wizardry in a world that heightens their powers but drains their energies, and about the sheer terror of THE GIANT PATCH OF DARKNESS THEY’RE HEADING INTO. Plus, it’s chance for them to talk logistics. How can they possibly stop the Lone Power if they have no energy? Is it worth it to use the Cup and the Sword and the Stone now to stop the waves of Fomori so they can give Ronan the chance to fight Balor? Or will that be too premature? AND WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO RONAN??? (On Ronan, I suspect that the presence of the Champion will protect him.)
The appearance of the Dark Ride of the Sidhe, the Sluagh Ron, is pretty damn majestic. But I was pleased that this wasn’t an easy solution for Duane to use to wrap up the action. I might have been momentarily frustrated by where the chapter ended, but I’m very pleased with it. The Sidhe aren’t here to solve things for the wizards, just to help. It’s still up to Ronan in the end. OR MAYBE NOT? I don’t know. I’M SCARED.
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