Apprentices become teachers, friendships turn to romance, and long-simmering subplots achieve resolution in the 10th entry of this well-loved fantasy series.
Kit, Nita, and Nita’s sister, Dairine, are accustomed to being the hotshot wizards-in-training, so it’s somewhat disconcerting when the Powers That Be propose that they serve as mentors to the newest crop competing in the prestigious Invitational. Kit and Nita are assigned obnoxious, arrogant Penn, who’s tinkering with solar engineering, while Dairine works with shy, self-sabotaging Mehrnaz and her earthquake project. The tournament storyline serves mostly as a framework to explore the shifting and expanding of characters’ relationships and roles. The spotlight this time is on Nita, struggling with her developing visionary powers, her place in the wizarding world, and (not least) her new and scary “boyfriend” label for Kit. Still, the leisurely narrative also provides plenty of pages to scrutinize brilliant, fiery, guilt-ridden Dairine, display a dazzling variety of ingenious spells, and check in with an effortlessly diverse multitude of supporting characters. Only in the final chapters do the stakes suddenly spike to “apocalyptic”; in a conflagrant climax overflowing with images of glory and wonder, Duane neatly manages to pull together and tie off plot threads that have been dangling since the earliest volumes.
A delightful treat for dedicated fans but well-nigh impenetrable as an entry point to the series. (Fantasy. 12 & up)