In this sequel to Deep Wizardry, Nita’s ten-year-old sister Dairine becomes a wizard. Younger than almost any wizard in history and amazingly powerful, she takes off across the galaxy with her computerized manual for what’s meant to be a sightseeing trip but soon turns into a confrontation with the Lone Power. It’s quite enjoyable: it sucked me in right away, and I read it all in two sittings. Dairine is a great character, highly sympathetic despite her very real faults. The computer stuff is a lot of fun (though by this point it’s rather quaint). And there are some moments of real beauty.
However, I found it somewhat disappointing compared to the previous books, especially Deep Wizardry. I think there are four main reasons. The first is that a lot of the alien worlds failed to convince me the way that the worlds in her previous books had. Secondly, the pacing of the big show-down seemed to be off: I felt like there were too many times when the heroes looked like they were about to win and then, oops, they didn’t. Thirdly, I felt that the book was somewhat anticlimactic. It wasn’t as intense, nor the ending as dearly bought, as Deep Wizardry; yet it involved the redemption of the Lone Power, whereas in Deep Wizardry the characters had only temporarily stopped it. I felt like High Wizardry scaled down from its predecessors, rather then building on them. Fourthly (and in my opinion, most importantly), some of the emotional plot-lines didn’t get resolved. This bothered me most of all.
Morally, the book is set in the same vague, semi-pagan world with a bunch of Powers running the universe. I wouldn’t object greatly to this, except that this novel shows some syncretistic tendencies. Near the end, some of the characters encounter one of the Powers, who says that she had previously had the identities of “Athene . . . And Thor. And Prometheus. And Michael.” Later, in talking about the fall of the Lone Power, she says, “I was the Winged Defender. He was my twin brother, the Beautiful One. Then . . . the disagreement happened, and there was war in Heaven, and all the roles changed. I led the others in casting him out.” The implication is that various mythologies are just as true as Christianity, and that the pagan gods are alternate identities of the angels. Needless to say, this is highly incompatible with Christianity, and a lot more disturbing than the previous books, which didn’t try to deal with religion.
Of course, the book isn’t a total sink of depravity. There are some valuable lessons about humility, presumption, and looking before you leap. And while I certainly don’t agree with the book’s worldview, I do find it very interesting, because Duane seems to be trying to write religious fantasy without a God. So there’s a Fall, but it’s purely physical, involving only death. Sin only sneaks sideways into the equation, in Dairine’s realization that “where entropy is . . . there its creator also is, either directly or indirectly” and that there’s a “treacherous little splinter” of the Lone Power hidden inside the dark and selfish places of her soul. And there’s a redemption, but because there’s no Christ it can only happen through convincing the Lone Power to changes its ways.
Bottom line: something of a disappointment, but still rather interesting.