In the twelfth and final chapter of A Wizard Abroad, the wizards go after Balor to try and save the world. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of warfare and consent.
Lots to talk about I WASN’T READY FOR THIS ENDING.
For a series about the slow energy death of the universe, I found this battle to be emblematic of the larger themes of Young Wizards. Balor, the form the Lone One takes, represents entropy, but it’s literally so here, since It zaps energy out of the wizards as they advance on It. Which is a brilliant tactic, but it was so distressing to read, you know?
To Duane’s credit, this is also one of the most relentless chapters in any of the four books I’ve read. I actually felt a lot more emotionally exhausted once I reached the end than I expected to, especially since one disastrous moment follows another in this chapter. The drows and pookas attack again, and Nita is nearly strangled; then Doris uses the Cup; then a ton of drows are destroyed or drowned; and then the patch of darkness surrounding Balor grows even bigger; AND THIS IS ONLY IN A FEW PAGES. By the time the Stone is activated – WHERE THE GROUND LITERALLY OPENS UP TO EAT LIVING THINGS, ONE OF THE MOST TREASURED TROPES OF ALL TIME – I was tired and uncertain how these wizards were even going to survive the onslaught long enough to get to the Lone Power. And hey, it’s always cool when you feel the same way as the characters do, so bravo on that, Duane. BRAVO ON YOUR MAGICAL WRITING POWERS.
My god WHO THINKS OF THIS KIND OF NIGHTMARE.
(Diane Duane does. Diane Duane does.)
Look, I’m not even sure I had an idea what Balor would look like. If anything, I figured the Lone Power would be another variation on what Nita and Kit had seen before. At the very least, I expected a humanoid form. I did not expect the horrific monstrosity of a hill with a face like a forgotten nightmare. As Nita puts it, I did not anticipate It being like whatever you call this thing:
It had been nothing like this crouching, lethargic horror, this lump of inertia, of blindness and old examined hates. Before, when confronted by the rogue Power that wizards fight, she’d always wanted to fight It too, or else run away in sheer terror. This made her simply want to sneak away somewhere and throw up.
WELL. I WAS CLEARLY NOT READY FOR THIS. Yet it’s nothing compared to the plot twist that’s dropped into my lap once the wizards try to fight Balor. I did not expect the Sword, the Stone, or the Cup to work. Given how much they’d been used, I assumed they had run out of energy, a common theme of this battle. (I LOVE VARIATIONS ON A THEME.) Ronan was going to have to be the one to stop Balor.
Ronan looked unnerved, but he lifted the Spear. The fires twisted and writhed in the metal of its head; he leaned back, balanced it, and threw.
The Spear went like an arrow, struck Balor–
–and bounced, and fell like a dead thing.
NOTHING. IT DID NOTHING AT ALL. BUT. BUT THAT WAS THEIR LAST RESORT. THERE’S NO BACK UP PLAN. THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE HEROIC JOURNEY. WHAT THE HELL.
The Bard’s Tale
There’s something beautifully silly about the idea that a talking cat is able to bait Balor into moving just out of sheer annoyance. Tualha recognizes what must happen: Balor has to open Its eye so that Ronan can pierce it with the Spear. How does Tualha do that? With a viciously clever poem. Or song. I’m quite sure what it is, but who cares when it contains burning lines like this?
No army here, just some shattered stonework,
some poor bruised goblins, all running away?
No ships at all, but just the old darkness,
the kind that they use to scare children at bedtime?
I love Tualha a lot.
So here’s where I’m a bit confused. Everything in this battle makes sense, and I understood what needed to be done. Ronan in particular had his own story arc within A Wizard Abroad that centered on acceptance. He had to accept the Champion inside of him. As Nita states:
Make him do it, Kit cried, frantic, to him and the Other who listened. He’s going to get the whole world killed!
No! It doesn’t work that way! Nita was equally frantic. He has to do it himself! Ronan, and she gulped, –go on!
Like all wizardries, choice and free will are an integral part of the process. You have to mean what you say. You have to be specific. You have to commit to the choice. All of this is compelling and makes a great deal of sense for his character. Yet I’m perplexed: Why didn’t the Champion ever ask Ronan for permission? Why is this the one area where consent is skipped over? I imagine this battle would have happened a little differently if the Champion had spent time trying to convince Ronan to allow him inside of him rather than to hide there.
I don’t know if this is something that will be addressed later or if it’s just an oversight, but it stood out to me as a strange part of this conflict.
There is no wizardry done without a cost. There’s an immediate one here – an excruciating (but relieving) pain that every living thing feels as Balor perishes. Biddy is dead, too, though we get to see the Power within her one last time before it moves on. (OH MY GOD, IT’S MORRIGAN. YOU’RE KIDDING ME.) Balor turns back into a hill, one that’s decidedly not alive or breathing. (Why does the image of a breathing monster hill creep me out so much?) Light and realness returns to this world, which is good news for the Sidhe; the prophecy was most likely fulfilled, ending their exile from Timeheart.
Yet the dead – all those wizards – must be left behind. It’s a really sad thought, especially if you consider how many people will never know why they died or what for. They’ll never get the closure they desire because their loved ones died in another realm. With that, this adventure ends. And that’s probably the only other thing I’d criticize about this: the ending is very abrupt. I think there’s a bit more that could have been explored, like Nita returning home and her parents’ reaction to it. Or maybe something with Dairine? I don’t think any of the other books end so suddenly, so perhaps that’s why I felt different about this one.
Regardless, I had a fantastic time reading A Wizard Abroad, and I can’t believe I’m starting my fifth Young Wizards book so soon. HOW.
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