In the thirteenth chapter of Wizard’s Holiday, HELP. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of claustrophobia.
I fell for it. Hard.
I feel like it happens once a book, but Diane Duane gets in her zone, and I feel honored that I get to experience it. The prose in this chapter, particularly as Nita and Kit follow Esemeli down to Druvah’s hiding place, is astounding. It’s one thing to be able to describe something, which Duane does well, but it’s another thing when she’s able to transport us somewhere. It’s one of the great things about writing, isn’t it? Granted, I had some limited experience with being beneath the Earth, but I couldn’t have fully appreciated this without Duane’s words.
Back in 2013, I traveled to San Antonio for the first time in my life for Worldcon, and during the downtime, my partner at the time and I made it out to the Natural Bridge Caverns. As far as tourist attractions go, it was pretty spectacular. I had always liked the idea of exploring a network of caves, so I very excitedly agreed to the expedition when my ex suggested it. There are warnings on the way in and from some of the staff about claustrophobia, but since I’d only experienced it in crowds, I figured I’d be okay.
Ultimately, I was, but y’all, I was not ready. I recall having to take an elevator down to the start of the tour, and our guide told us this was the only way in and out of the cavern. To be honest, I think that was the exact moment my anxiety-riddled brain went, “Hold on. What.” A burst of nerves rushed through me as the elevator creaked and groaned its way down the shaft, and when I stepped out – the air strangely warmer than I expected – it felt like someone was sitting on top of my head and shoulders.
The guide immediately said there were tons of rock above me and MY BRAIN LOST IT. I managed to get ahold of myself rather quickly by taking a break to breathe and focus instead on the sheer beauty of that space. Thankfully, we popped into a huge cavern fairly soon after that first passageway, and it alleviated a lot of the sensation. But until that point, I’d never experienced that! I know that’s why it affected me as much as it did; I had no coping mechanism for the sensation. Duane’s prose took me right back to that moment, and I was able to immerse myself in this surreal journey completely.
And what a weird thing this is. I know that when I recommend these books to others, that’ll be a part of my flailing: they are surreal as hell at times, and it’s a constantly-rewarding thing to experience. Duane invokes the imagery of descending into a Underworld here, and it’s such a beautifully intentional thing. It put me in the right headspace to appreciate this, and then, within a few pages, she destroyed my expectations by making things even weirder.
I believe this is the first time she’s talked about complex spaces in the Young Wizards series, but y’all, the sheer potential of this is ridiculous to me. I want to see another one! Here, the complex-space is used to create a world that’s a mixture of reality and myth. Druvah is such a talented wizard that he might just be one of the most powerful and clever wizards we’ve seen, and this whole cavern is proof of that. He constructed a cave meant to mimic the very journey that he went through when creating this place, thus providing any wizard seeking him out a chance to think very seriously about what they were about to ask of him.
It’s brilliant. Scary, even! And as these wizards descended into the unknown while following the Lone One to Druvah, I couldn’t help the dread I felt. Part of that comes from the physicality of the place, and again, props to Duane for that. Yet it’s also because of six and a half books worth of characterization, too! This is the seventh iteration of the Lone One we’ve seen, and it’s by far the strangest. Kit and Nita willingly followed It down to… what? They had no idea what they were going to find, and the looming unknown is FUCKING TERRIFYING.
However, once the place began to change into something else… oh, I was both frightened and exhilarated. BRING ON THE WEIRD. The gravity changed, first of all, which made no sense to me, BUT LET’S TALK ABOUT THE REVEAL OF THE FINAL CAVERN. Like the first time Kit and Nita came to Alaalid, perspective is used to FUCK EVERYTHING UP. The place was impossibly big, a sign that it was a complex space, and by inverting the sky and the land, the decreasing gravity suddenly had a new meaning. They had not been experiencing a reduction in gravity; it had merely shifted positions.
They fall up. UP. The whole experience is meant to take any wizard and literally flip them about, and I am sure Druvah constructed it that way for a metaphorical meaning, too. The cave passage had been built that way, hadn’t it? Why wouldn’t the rest? I say this because I feel like every bit of this chapter was one giant warning to Nita that she needed to flip her perspective, to think of things as Druvah or the Lone One would think of them. They traveled along a path that seemed impossible to return along, and that was the point.
“When we’re finished talking to you… how do we get out of here?”
“No one does that,” Druvah said, “until we change the world.”
And this space that Druvah constructed to hide in is evidence of how Alaalu got their choice wrong. It’s more or less an Underworld, except every Alaalid ever is there, unchanged, unmoving, unmotivated. It’s where the Whispers came from, and, as far as I can see, it’s where Nita and Kit are stuck… unless they can “change” the world. But without Quelt – who refused to even talk to Nita and Kit that morning – how the hell are they going to do this?
Diane Duane had to ruin me twice, didn’t she?
I adore that this book switches between the fantastical journey of Nita and Kit to a horrifying underworld nightmare right to Dairine and her friends HANGING OUT JUST OUTSIDE THE SUN. That genre-bending confidence is so fulfilling to me because Duane cares more about creating a wonderful story rather than worry about what genre it ends up in. Plus, I love the contrast she achieves by having this conflict end at the sun. What had these wizards done the night before? Appreciate the Moon. I wouldn’t say they are polar opposites; indeed, part of the beauty of the moon is the way it looks due to the sun reflecting off of it. But we got from silence to violence, and the scenes inside of our sun are unreal. It’s just as weird as the underworld sequence, AND THIS IS HALL HAPPENING IN THE SAME CHAPTER.
Yet I don’t know why I didn’t figure that the Lone One would fuck things up for Dairine, too, but HERE WE ARE.
There’s something wrong here, she heard Sker’ret saying in her mind. Something interfering with the magnetic flow at this level.
The bubblestorm area? Dairine asked.
No. A darkness…
IS THE LONE ONE LIVING IN THE SUN, TOO. Is It paying rent??? Because if not, RUDE.
And I should have seen the twist at the end coming. Roshaun had explained in great detail how he and his family were the Guarantors, the ones expected to deal with stars and suns because of their unique wizardry specializations. I should have known that he would take it upon himself to solve this. Still, the image of him plunging deeper into the sun while Diarine screams in anguish is NOT AT ALL FAIR.
What the fuck is this book, y’all.
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