“Owl Be Home for Christmas”

Diane Duane

This is a pretty direct follow-on to my last review, and similarly was written before Christmas. And while it’s the same kind of thing—a small, not saving-the-world scale story in a universe I love—it’s also very different. Because “How Lovely Are Thy Branches” takes place within the main timeline of the books, but this was based on a real event, and was thus locked to a specific point in time. Which happened to be something like a decade later than the rest of the series.

It’s a commentary on how well Duane has written the series to be timeless that it’s easy to forget that, prior to the New Millennium rewrite, these were all taking place in, what, the 80s-90s? That timelessness, though, made it very surprising to realize that, in jumping up to approximately now, a lot of time had passed.

And that’s what really hit me, in reading this. It’s a glimpse at the future of these characters I love. I’ve gone from being along for the ride as they grow up to seeing them as adults, and the places they’ve made for themselves. It’s a bittersweet reunion, and it makes me want to know everything that happened in between. Kit did a doctorate? In what? Nita’s working with Irina? How did that happen? What else have I missed?

All that, and there’s also the sense that the series has grown. I remember that 90s-inflected, Don’t Say Gay treatment of Tom and Carl in the original edition of the first book. In point of fact, I remember explicit statements that they weren’t together, just coworkers who’d decided to buy a house together.

And now, here in 2020, we get to see them waking up together. Poking fun, “are you calling me old?” “I seem to remember telling you I like older men…”

This was such a short story, and it pulled on my heartstrings way more than I was expecting it to. I think this one may be slightly better for someone new to the series than the last, given that there’s less need to actually know who the characters are to understand what’s going on—although it actually has direct references to “How Lovely Are Thy Branches”—but the broader context of how this world works would still be confusing. So hey, why not pick up the box set, it’s a pretty good deal.


“How Lovely Are Thy Branches”

Diane Duane

As a bit of a peek behind the scenes at how far out I occasionally write these reviews, I read this over Thanksgiving weekend, which was approximately the perfect time to read it. Great way to kick-start the Christmas spirit!

It’s been long enough since I read any of the Young Wizards book that this feels like a strange homecoming; everything is familiar, but some of the details I can’t quite recall. The introduction mentioning where, exactly, in the timeline this took place was a helpful bit of grounding, and I loved some of the little world-building touches like Carmela having employee-level access to the systems at the Crossings. (Which, really, makes a lot of sense—not only is she good friends with the guy running the whole place, but she saved it from an invasion. That’s the sort of thing that does tend to earn one the Keys to the City or equivalent.)

The Interim Errantry series is a nice, lightweight part of the greater universe, and exactly the kind of thing I love to see in more established universes. Everything can’t be huge-scale, this is the apocalypse/save the world type adventures! There’s gotta be time for regular life in between—or, if there isn’t, then it’s worth exploring that these people aren’t able to have regular life. Since that isn’t the case, it’s nice to see some of the little moments like these.

It’s such a nice little story, I love it. I really doubt that it’d be a good starting point for the series, since there’s a whole lot of existing characters that don’t get introduced particularly well, but if you already know the franchise, go read it.


Games Wizards Play

Oh man oh man oh man, I love Diane Duane. She’s one of those writers that I’ve been reading forever, I grew up with her work.1 And I think all of it is wonderful. Duane does a good job of keeping her website up to date, and I follow her blog and her Twitter account pretty closely, so I’ve known this book was coming out soon. Unfortunately, I was on a bus driving around California when it actually came out, and didn’t have any time to spare for reading2 so it had to wait until now.
But man was it worth it. I loved this book, oh so very much. It’s full of beautiful little hat-tips – S’ree’s appearance, early on, was a nice little moment, and it allowed the slow-burn story of what she’s doing with her life to expand a little more. Sker’ret also poked his head in once or twice, and he’s doing quite well for himself, apparently. Carmela, who over the course of the series went from “deeply annoying” to “quite possibly my favorite character” has become a wonderfully-Involved3 person, a bit of a power player on the galactic playing field. Which I love, because she’s not a wizard – she’s just got a talent for languages and a skill for making connections.
The core plot of the book was an interesting one- once every eleven years, all the young wizards of Earth get together, throwing their best and brightest into an Invitational where they show off their spellcrafting skills. Our main characters are a bit too long in the tooth for that, though, and instead get tapped to mentor the younger folks. Dairine got paired with a young Iranian girl whose introduction had my laughing at how uncomfortable Dairine got, while Kit and Nita, always a team, got handed someone who I, personally, referred to as “an annoying startup of a human being.”
And with that as the backdrop, they were off to play. Nita and Kit spend a lot of time worrying about the change in their relationship, trying to figure all that out.4 Nita, of course, has to deal with the mess of visions that the future is throwing at her – which are, intentionally, baffling to both her and the reader. Dairine, meanwhile, has showed some of the most amazing growth as a character that I’ve ever seen – when she first was introduced, she was a powerhouse burning like a star: fierce, bright, untamable. Since then, her power levels have dropped rapidly, to a far more normal level, and while she spent a while being very upset about that, the loss of first her mother and then Roshaun forced her to grow up fast. And she did: as a mentor, she’s amazing, becoming both a friend and a protector for her mentee. I adored it.
One moment that I wasn’t quite sure I liked: the introduction of two queer characters. The first was something that’s been a long time coming, I’d say – a bit character from two books ago reappeared as a wizarding friend of the main characters, and mentions in passing that he’s gay. Nita has a little epiphany at that,5 and while still staggering from that finds out that another of those bit-characters is asexual. Plot wise, that one-two punch made sense – it was the confusion from the first coming out that led to the conversation about the second, but taken from the standpoint of a reader like me it seems a little bit forced. This is, what, the tenth6 book in the series, and you introduce your only two queer characters within a couple pages of another? It whiffs a little of tokenism.
That little bit aside, I’m going to have to stop myself now, because otherwise I’ll get into too spoilerific of territory. There are a couple new characters introduced that had my cackling with laughter or almost literally pushing my nose into the book to read with more scrutiny,7 and in a similar vein we got to see a lot more of Irina and find out more about her life.8 And the end of the book, oh lord, that ending. It’s a good thing neither of my roommates were around while I was reading it, because the delighted noise I made would probably have frightened them. It’s a perfect ending, in Diana Wynne Jones territory, and it made me so happy. This has been one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past year, and I seriously recommend it to everyone.9

  1. The other one is Tamora Pierce; the last time she came out with a new book, I stopped everything I was doing and reread the entire series up to that point, then the new book itself. 
  2. “You’ve got spare time? Nonsense, go practice your music!” 
  3. A term I’m borrowing from Iain Banks’ Culture series; to be Involved is to be a player on the galactic scale. 
  4. Ah, high school. 
  5. Which I found a little bit entertaining, because I can remember the same sort of epiphany waaaaay back when I first found out that not everyone is straight. What a weird time that was. 
  6. I’d originally written “thirteenth” here, but Diane Duane corrected me, and I’ve updated this page to be correct. 
  7. You’ll know who they are when they show up, they’re rather unforgettable. 
  8. Which was something else I absolutely loved about this book – the way that Nita, and Dairine, are both surrounded so constantly by figures of massive importance, and neither of them let it slow them down. Dairine goes through some tough negotiations with Irina, the bloody Planetary, and Nita gives a nickname to a being that exists on a scale quite a few orders of magnitude larger and more powerful than her.
    Which actually made for some very interesting foreshadowing for the reveal at the end of the book. 
  9. Bonus points if you pick it up from the author herself – she sells books and ebooks directly, on her website