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Me reading a book
So, I recently went to a book fair and I got 4 books there, and I randomly decided that I would post my thoughts here as I read them. Mostly because I have trouble describing stories and what I like/dislike about them to other people, and I feel like putting my thoughts down in words will be good mental practice, but hopefully it’ll also be entertaining-ish to read (no promises). If you have any questions or comments somehow, feel free to post them, I like talking about stories.

The first book I’m reading is “A Wizard Alone” by Diane Duane (huh, that’s almost the same name twice), which has the following blurb:
“Becoming a wizard isn’t easy. In fact, it can kill you.
All first-time wizards must go through an initiation in magic called an Ordeal. Most only last a few days. So why has Darryl McAllister been on Ordeal for three months?
Or has he? Darryl hasn’t actually gone anywhere. His body is still here; it’s his mind that seems to have departed. And that’s where Kit and Nita come in. Only together can they unravel the mysteries around Darryl--who he is, what he is, and why the source of all death in the universe, the Lone Power, is desperately trying to destroy him.”

I chose this book almost entirely because of it's blurb. I read a lot of fantasy novels, and I like that this one seems to be based on figuring out something, solving mysteries, but it's really that last line that got me, especially the word "desperately". Like, the literal embodiment of death, being desperate to 'destroy' someone? And two relatively ordinary people (Kit and Nita) getting caught up in it? That hooks my interest. So I think I'll enjoy this book.

I'll probably post to this thread every few chapters, when it seems like i get to a good breaking point.
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Okay so immediately I was surprised by the beginning, which spends several pages describing the wizard Kit having trouble getting his TV's DVD player working, since it and his remote control, which are both magically sentient, are refusing to work together.

"Kit's mama came drifting in and looked over Kit's shoulder as he continued to speak passionately to the remote and the DVD player about the importance of cooperation and teamwork, the need not to feel diminished by acting, however briefly, as part of whole. But the remote refused to do anything further, and the whole screen stayed blue."

They eventually make up.

The story also takes place in New York, roughly modern times I think, and is actually the 6th book in a series, which I didn't realize before getting it. So there's a lot of context I don't have, but honestly I don't feel that confused or like there are things going over my head. I think whatever series the book is in is of the more 'episodic' kind, where each book contains a full narrative that gets resolved by the end, the next one having the same characters and setting but a new plot, rather than each book being part of the same continuous story. The other books probably went into detail about the place of magic in the modern world, and why inanimate objects (and also animals) can talk, but I can glean most of that information from how things are described in this book (Like, when a travel spell makes Kit's ears pop, and he alters it by taking the 'spell-chain' and changing the 'mass-displacement variable', that tells me that this setting uses a hard magic system with rules and limitations, as opposed to a soft one, where what characters can do with magic is more mystical and unquantified).

I like how the story makes good humorous use of the modern fantasy setting, with wizards trying to fix technological problems as above. (and also this:
"We're expert enough to change the laws of physics temporarily," Carl muttered. "How hard can wiring be?"
With a clunk! all the lights in the house went out.) There's just a lot of good untapped potential in such a setting.

Although he's probably a well-established character by this point in the series, the story also made me like Kit as a character quite quickly. There was this moment of internal reflection he had, while considering Nita (whose mother had recently died, probably in the events of the previous book I'd guess), where he regrets how he can't do anything to help her with her grief, and how all he can say are platitudes that sound stupid and heartless, and how annoyingly embarrassed he feels to show sadness. It just lent a lot of depth to the character in a short amount of words.

That was all just chapter 1 so far. In terms of plot, Kit was called by his wizard mentor, told about this kid Darryl McAllister who's been on an ordeal for 3 months, and asked to investigate. Not really that interesting do far tbh, but at least it's getting right to the plot from the get-go.
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The second chapter begins with a very serious, utterly unhumorous backstory behind Nita's fear of circuses and clowns, and then a description of a nightmare she has featuring them.

"Around and around and around, in jerky, wobbling movements, around and around went the clown. It had a painted black tear running down its face. The red-painted mouth was turned down. But the face under the white greasepaint mask was as immobile as a marble statue's, expressionless, plastered in place. Only the eyes were alive. They shouted, I can't get off! I can't get off! And, just this once, the clown didn't think it was funny, either."

There's a couple more pages after she wakes up, going into how she feels about her mother's passing, before she goes back to sleep. She doesn't appear in the rest of the chapter. I have no idea how or if the clown thing is going to be relevant to the story. I'm guessing it probably will be, otherwise that'd be a really weird thing to just throw in at the start of the chapter.

The main content of the chapter is Kit finding Darryl (who is eleven years old). He goes to school (not sure Kit's age, but I think it's 15 or 16? He goes to high school), talks to some friends, does school stuff. Most of the characters here were probably introduced and developed in earlier books, so it wasn't that interesting to me, but it was still entertaining enough. At lunch, Kit goes home to begin looking for Darryl. There's a touching moment where he asks the gate to keep his sleeping mother safe, I like just how casual objects being sentient is treated in this story. There's a couple pages about the tracking and cloaking spells Kit uses to find Darryl and stay hidden, and then he just goes and finds him at Darryl's school (with the help of his dog, Ponch, who is a main character I in this story think). And it turns out that Darryl is autistic.

So, I'm not really sure what to make of this. Following this discovery, Kit has a long talk with his mentor wizard about it and what it could mean for Darryl's Ordeal, followed by another long talk about autism with his mother (who is a doctor). I feel like the author definitely knew it was a complicated topic and wanted to make that clear in the book, and it seems accurate enough in the information it presents (not that I'm that knowledgable myself) and doesn't denigrate people with the condition as inferior.

"Autistic people have trouble, sometimes, predicting what other human beings' minds are going to do. It's a skill they have to develop with practice, whereas we take it almost completely for granted, that prediction inside: 'If I do this, then she'll do that,' and so on. So you have to be prepared for the things you say to really upset him, more than would seem reasonable."

But it seems like Darryl's autism isn't just going to be part of his character, but actually kind of central to the plot? Like, here's a quote from Kit's wizard mentor in regards to Kit's plan to talk to Darryl by entering his mind (which is a thing Ponch, the dog, can just do. "Ponch has been able to treat someone's interior landscape like an exterior universe before." Guessing it was probably a major thing in a previous book):

"'Even normal Ordeals are subjective, and getting another entity's subjectivity involved with one, even temporarily, brings considerable dangers with it. This Ordeal, where the candidate is autistic--' He shook his head. 'It might be an attempt to resolve the autism, which is likely to be incredibly traumatic for Darryl whether it works or not...or it might simply be about some mode of wizardy we haven't seen before, one that involves Darryl staying autistic. What looks like our idea of 'normal' function may not, in the One's eyes, be the best function. Judgement calls in these cases can get dangerous."

There's a lot of emphasis that Kit will need to interfere as little as possible in Darryl's Ordeal and only stay in an observer role. So, it isn't clear so far how Darryl's autism will affect things. But yeah, I'm not sure what to think about this. Obviously how autism is represented in stories is a sensitive issue, and I've read a lot of stories where characters display mental illnesses, to varying degrees of well-writtenness. But i get the impression this story isn't just going to have an autistic character, it's going to have the character's autism be very narratively important, and not in a "internal character struggles" way, but in a more, direct way i guess? I'm not sure I've ever read a story like that before. Maybe Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (tv show, second season) kind of counts. A character with painful sensory hallucinations got transported to magical fantasy land, and their hallucinations became actually real, and they could sort of control them and direct them off their body (for example, when they hallucinated barbed wire wrapped around their leg, they were able to physically unwrap it and pull it off, and ended up with a strip of barbed wire).

Anyway I'm very interested in where this story is going and I hope it does it well.
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