Wizards at War, by Diane Duane (Harcourt, 2005)

For teenage wizards Nita, Kit, and Dairine, life is never dull or ordinary. As part of a select group of magical champions, they might be called upon at any time to travel across the universe, negotiate a peace treaty between cats and dogs, journey through time, or fight the Lone Power as it attempts to bring death and destruction to all that lives. But now things are getting out of hand. As dark matter floods the universe, wizards begin to lose their powers, rapidly incapacitating the senior wizards who normally take care of the truly major problems. In a short time, the only ones left to stand against the encroaching end of everything are the young wizards, who balance raw power with inexperience. Now Nita, Kit, Dairine, and their allies (including several visiting alien exchange students) must find a way to stop the dark matter from engulfing the entire universe. But the Lone Power’s out there also, ready to take advantage of the opportunities provided in the chaos, and it may be seeking an ancient magical weapon forged at the dawn of time. Our heroes will have to work together, even though they’ll be spread out across an entire universe, if they want to survive. And because this is, in many respects, a war, not everyone will come home. But what price will success exact upon the young wizards and their friends, and does it have anything to do with Kit’s dog, Ponch, acting stranger than usual?

Diane Duane really believes in upping the stakes with each successive Young Wizards book, and she always manages to make the struggle feel fresh and new, no matter how many times we’ve seen the protagonists face off against the Lone Power. However, it’ll be interesting to see if she can top the sense of urgency and accomplishment that Wizards At War invokes. Of course, the real joy comes in watching our heroes interact, from the deep-rooted bonds of friendship (turning into something more, perhaps?) between Kit and Nita, to the feisty, playful interactions between independent-minded Dairine and arrogant alien prince Roshaun, to the always entertaining attitude of Ponch. These are characters we grow to care about, so it’s all the more powerful when someone actually falls in battle.

I’ve been reading this series for a long time now, and it just keeps getting better. Blending science fiction and fantasy, it delivers the perfect mix of adventure and characterization, making for books with staying power. There’s a reason Nita and Kit have been around this long, and why they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Need something to read while Rowling finishes off Harry Potter? Try Wizards At War and the rest of this series.

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