This is the third in the Young Wizards series. I quite enjoyed the first, but no more than that, and was prepared to abandon the series. However, I was persuaded to read the second, and after a mediocre first half it turned out to be wonderful - unexpectedly deep and moving for a young adult book. I bought this one at the same time, since it was about computers and therefore highly appropriate for geeky me.
Memo to all authors: technology moves on so fast that whatever current gadgets you include as part of your plot will undoubtedly be obsolete before the book hits the stores. All the references to green screens and MBasic and diskettes and ones and zeroes - they just don't age well. Much better to be vague about the details, rather than have your readers rolling on the floor in hysterical laughter only a few years later.
Rather than focus on Nita and Kit, the newbie wizards of the previous two books, this one is about younger sister Dairine, a paragon of intellect and self-taught knowledge, who becomes a wizard too, and sets off into the universe armed only with a magic computer and a frighteningly high level of self-confidence. This part of the story was quite dull, unless you like a lot of details about planets and moons and galaxies. I rather liked the inter-galactic travel terminal, though, although I rolled my eyes rather at the inexplicably helpful stranger who gets Dairine out of a jam. Even though the author explains it away with an airy handwave - sometimes people do help out strangers - it still feels like a plot cheat.
But eventually Dairine gets to somewhere more interesting, and Nita and Kit set off in pursuit and... no, honestly, this is not working for me. There a section where they're trying to think of the worst possible thing ever, and decide that, actually, burning dogs in cars is the worst, far worse than killing children or adults, and they would do absolutely anything to stop it. No, sorry, I can't subscribe to a philosophy like that. There are far worse things. Destroying entire planets, for one thing. Or stars, or galaxies, or whatever it is the Big Bad is supposed to be doing. Get a grip, people.
But then, eventually, Dairine gets to where she's going and starts doing stuff, and yes, it gets more interesting. There's a point where she's arguing logic and philosophy with a bunch of computers, essentially (not wanting to give away too much here), which is terrific and reaches the heights of 'Deep Wizardry'. But then it's back to hurling spells round, and the book lost me again. To be honest, by the time it got to the final confrontation with the Big Bad, it all got too easy. Dairine was just too powerful, and really, that's not interesting. She knows everything, she can do everything, she understands everything that's going on, and she can respond far quicker than anyone else. She didn't even have to learn how to do this stuff, she just knows, or else the computer tells her. And the whole parrot business... bleah.
I'm not really sure how this would play out for the target young adult demographic. There are some incredibly clever and imaginative ideas in here, and a lot of knowledge or research behind it. Unfortunately, I found there were just too many info-dumps explaining physics or computer theory, the magic was too easy, and the plot not interesting enough to compensate. Two stars.