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Games Wizards Play (Young Wizards Series) Hardcover – February 2, 2016
From School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—In this 10th installment of the "Young Wizards" series (HMH), Kit, Nita, Dairine, and their wizard friends return for more interplanetary adventures. Every 11 years, Earth's wizards hold the Invitational, a prestigious competition in which young wizards compete to craft and execute the perfect spell. The three young protagonists are each invited to mentor a young wizard in the competition, and each ends up facing unique challenges. Among them, Nita has a complicated vision that could change everything, and through a series of events, the stakes quickly become much higher than winning a contest. The story is slow to develop and heavily hinges on knowledge obtained in previous installments. Everything comes together in the end, though, to create a well-thought-out climax, with a satisfying resolution. Recommend this series to young teens who devour books about magic and wizards. VERDICT This is a solid addition to the series; purchase where there are fans of the previous volumes or kids looking for "Harry Potter" read-alikes.—Candyce Pruitt-Goddard, Sno-Isle Libraries, Marysville, WA
“Recommend this series to young teens who devour books about magic and wizards. . . . or kids looking for “Harry Potter” read-alikes.”
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The focus of the 600-plus page book is “The Invitational,” a sort of science fair for young wizards who get mentored as they create then present original spell work. Our main series characters — Nita, Kit, and Dairine — are all asked by the Powers That Be to be mentors. Kat and Nita as a team for an obnoxiously arrogant and sexist boy (Penn Shao-Feng) and Dairine to an Indian girl (Mehrnaz Farrahi) with family issues. In addition to their problematic charges, Kit and Nita together are struggling with the awkwardness of their new boyfriend-girlfriend relationship; Nita alone is having a hard time with some disturbing visions; and Dairine continues to have a hard time with the loss of someone she cared about (in the last book) and with her new sun-monitoring apprenticeship.
Duane has always had a sensitive hand when conveying the personal lives and interactions of her young characters and that remains a strength in Games Wizards Play. Sure, sometimes Nita’s internal monologues might be a little too direct or frequent, but generally Duane does an excellent job with the confusion, awkwardness, self-doubt, and out and out fear that occurs when a relationship moves from friends to more than friends, especially at this age. There’s also a nod to Nita finding her role in the wizardly world, and I actually wouldn’t have minded if some of the relationship time had been replaced with more on this aspect, though it’s clear this is mostly a set-up for what’s coming next.
The side characters unfortunately don’t fare quite as well. Both are a bit too stock and their plots are pretty perfunctorily dealt with, both throughout the book and in their resolutions, which feel rushed and anti-climactic. And while “relationships” are a clear theme, sometimes that theme is played too bluntly, and one also feels a bit of a “checklist” nature to things, with an again perfunctory shout out to a gay character and an asexual character. The problem isn’t the presence of these characters, but their slightness and their wholly peripheral relation to the plot, so that rather than feeling like they (and thus their sexuality) are an organic part of the novel, they feel tacked on so as to cover all the bases. That said, easily my favorite writing in the book occurs in a passage dealing with the relationship between the sentient planets Jupiter and Saturn (talk about covering all bases!)
The plot is leisurely at best, with lots of time spent on the intricacies of various spells with Duane offering up, in my mind, more detail than is necessary too frequently. Things move pretty slowly from invitation to meeting the mentors to dealing with them to the first and then final parts of the competition. When the first “culling” removes a lot more contestants than usual, a mystery to all that is never explained, it’s hard as a reader not to think this was just Duane realizing things were not moving apace and needing to speed things up. This leisurely pace continues nearly to the very ending, where the book goes from 0 to 60 in about 2.3 pages (maybe a slight exaggeration). This is where things feel rushed and anticlimactic.
Given these issues, a book coming in at about 400-450 pages, with less time spent on the jargon and spells and more on the side characters would have made for a better read in my opinion. But as mentioned, I’m a huge fan of this series, and are main characters do move forward in several aspects of their lives, so there’s still pleasure to be found here for fans. And as always, Duane’s writing is smooth and effortless, carrying the reader along quickly through the book. So yes, a weaker entry in the series as a whole, but still one worth reading for series fans and one which sets up the future quite nicely.
(originally posted on fantasyliterature.com)
The good: We finally got resolution to a helluva cliff hanger from book 8 - where did Roshaun go, his last nanosecond hair raising rescue, and return to the fold.
Nita and Dairene must have the coolest dad in existence.
The not quite so good: Nita and Kit's relationship seems a bit too cautious to be real life teenagers, as they seem waaaay too uncomfortable, and insecure - much like wearing a badly fitting coat, or pair of shoes. The issue flopped back and forth, rubbing and chafing, inviting all to comment on it from their senior wizard advisors to Nita' s dad. Even a kiss was strained - like Nita and Kit were gonna throw a major cerebral hemorrhage leading up to it. I can't honestly believe they haven't found some private time to fool around even a little and explore a bit. The strain seemed way out of the realm of realism, and that sorta got old real quick.
No Filif, very little Sker'ret, minimal Rhiow or her Grand Central world gate crew. Ponch doesn't even make a cameo appearance as dog's version of The One either. :(
The Lone Power plays very little role in this book, and does not live up to It's usual level of interference, or nastiness. That is sorta expected in this series. It's absence was a bit of an anticlimax.
Will Carmela be a latent wizard, or not? That is still open for debate ...
Over all it was just a relief to get the next book, one I have perserverated on for over 5 1/2 years - much the same feeling as pulling out something wedged painfully into your teeth would provide. It wasn't as awesome as I had hoped for, but like all books in this series satisfying none the less. Sure, it would have been so much more excellent if our hero's were battling a challenging, tricky, dangerous, and lethal Lone Power as the primary plot in this book, but the story works well enough to make me happy. Even with some of the missing elements that makes these books work so well in the past, I just cannot give it anything less than 5 stars due to being such a fan-girl of this series. I just hope we don't have quite as long a wait for the next book - or I may be dead from old age, and natural causes .. or a hemorrhage ...
I really, really hope DD will please consider concentrating on this series a bit more - opposed to the other Sci-Fi books. This series is a 5 star home run, and I love it immensely!
Nothing more satisfying then getting a new book set in this universe - it matters not whom is staring - humans, cats, el at. I love this series more than oxygen and water!
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