Swankivy's Reviews > Games Wizards Play

Games Wizards Play by Diane Duane
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really liked it

In general this is an excellent book ten in an excellent series! I had emotional responses several times when characters were struggling with their families, frustrated with their relationships, and mourning lost or missing loved ones. And the plot of this story hinging on a competition was pretty interesting; usually these wizards battle life-or-death situations with high stakes, and it's pretty neat to see them working with a plot that has stakes but not generally the life-or-death kind. (I expected everything to lead to something much more catastrophic than it did--though don't get me wrong, a dangerous and life-threatening situation did arise because of this game!--but I really appreciated that the competition plot was front and center throughout the whole story.)

I like that Nita and Kit are still trying to figure out their relationship as it changes and evolves over time, like any two confused and committed kids, and I also love that they still have a lot of important relationships with their families and their day-to-day lives.

Mehrnaz, Dairine's mentee for the competition, is a really interesting character. I thought the narration was setting her up to be evil or something because she was so polite and so self-deprecating, when contrasted with Nita and Kit's mentee, Penn, an obnoxiously overconfident, infuriatingly sexist and braggartly young man. I really liked Mehrnaz's family story and how Dairine helped her through what was at its heart a generational family issue that didn't depend on magic. (I also like that there were consequences for how Dairine talked to Mehrnaz's aunt. I'm kinda tired of plucky young people speaking truth to power in books and then everyone just applauds and the powerful person slinks away in defeat. It's so nice to see how even in the wizarding world, connections and nepotism matter and aren't always fair.)

Penn pissed me off and was supposed to piss me off. His inconsistency was strange, and I wasn't sure how to feel about the ending with him. I guess it makes sense in context that deep down he felt that Nita had "something he needed" and then as a young boy he interpreted that as just wanting to flirt with her and possess her in a relationship sense. But considering how she kept resisting the way he treated her, it felt so weird to see him then concluding that Nita must be in love with him and insisting that there was something between them, and wanting to fight Kit to "win" her. (I liked that there were consequences for that, too.) I have to say all the peeks into Nita's visionary experiences didn't connect to the ending for me--I didn't really understand how the images and interactions Nita saw were explained by the ending of the book.

And I really like the complicated relationship Dairine has with Roshaun's family. The forward motion in that situation was lovely. The idea of the competition was neat too, as it felt a bit like science fairs or trade shows, and even though obviously there are huge elements of the wizarding world that have never been mentioned before and I was surprised a big event that involves the Planetary never came up in conversation before, I thought it was realistic enough. I was curious about the other contestants besides Nita and Kit's and Dairine's mentees. I wanted more of a breath of personality and info from each of them.

I had two reasons for not wanting to give this book full marks, though. One of them was the thing that continues to just kinda irritate me reading these books. The scope of them is pretty massive and it's understandable that Nita, Kit, and Dairine have racked up quite a cast of characters to keep relevant. I do honestly get tired of the parade of cameos that results from this. Characters who really don't do much (or do anything!) in the story have to have their moment to pop in and show you what they've been doing, and don't necessarily connect to anything Nita or Kit or Dairine has been dealing with in the book. On the one hand, I don't demand that every interaction is plot-relevant or kicks off something emotional that matters. On the other hand, when there are SO MANY superficial interactions just so the story can mention a character or have them stroll by to update us on who they're dating or what they're working on, I just start to get dizzy and I feel like some of my investment leaks out the sides of the story.

The other thing that just kinda irritated me was the shoutout to a couple queer orientations in the book. As a reasonably prominent asexual activist myself, it is of course a delight to get more asexual characters (as one character is ace in the book and discusses it explicitly with Nita). And relatedly, I appreciate more LGBT characters popping up in books. The problem I had with it was that it was all framed by Nita's reaction to these characters not being straight; in both cases, Nita sort of beats herself up for "not realizing" or being so oblivious as to not guess that someone was gay or ace. She's like WOW I CAN'T BELIEVE I NEVER. KNEW. HE. WAS. GAY. I TOTALLY DIDN'T PAY ATTENTION! It had this weird sort of "not that there's anything wrong with that, but I can't believe I didn't know!" emphasis on it that I guess sometimes straight people feel (?) but I don't like seeing it modeled. It isn't that big of a deal and "OMG HOW DID I NEVER KNOW U WERE GAY" is . . . you know, this is hard to explain, why it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I guess the fact that you never go "omg. never realized HE WAS STRAIGHT!!?!" when you find out someone has a cross-sex partner is part of it. It shows that on some level this IS shocking to you, and that you WERE assuming the person was straight until proven otherwise. (And dating someone of the same sex does not automatically make a person gay either, so . . . basically, you just need to either have a conversation with the person if you wanna know how they identify, or don't worry about it if it's not relevant to your life.)

The discussion Nita had with the ace character felt a little random, a little queer-roll-call cameo-ish, and though I do admit that characters who are struggling with their own relationships are more likely to willingly engage in conversations with other teens about their relationships, it ended up not connecting to anything in a meaningful way and thus felt a bit like the other type of cameos I get annoyed with in these books: we're putting this in because we want to show the diversity of young adults' relationships, not because it matters with this particular character. I think in both "reveals" I would have appreciated less attention on it, less time out for queer 101 and straight-girl-having-an-omg-reaction, and more just plain old nonchalant inclusion of queer characters with queer relationships (as opposed to queer characters who show up mostly just to have the conversation about that).

(I also would like the author to find better words than "idiot" for what she means. That word was used a lot, even in a conversation where the Planetary says there is no allowance for "idiots," and I think it's a little alarming that this word hasn't been phased out the way it should be.)

Overall I am very pleased with the book, but the things I didn't like about it made it feel pretty uneven. I'm always willing to read more about these folks, though, and the author really does have a talent for building up a story and making it feel personally important and relevant to each character who is affected by the events.
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Reading Progress

January 26, 2016 – Shelved
January 26, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
October 28, 2019 – Started Reading
November 19, 2019 – Finished Reading

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