Looking back, I think most of the problem I had with A Wizard Alone is that I didn’t take the whole “the Lone Power made Darryl’s problems worse temporarily” thing seriously. I assumed that Darryl’s situation when Kit first goes looking for him was normal for Darryl, when I guess it wasn’t supposed to be? It isn’t clear. Because Darryl actually technically finished his Ordeal as soon as he took the Oath, right? His Ordeal was putting the Oath into actual words when his brain was not letting him use words, and the Lone Power was making it even harder.
“Two weeks after things started to get so bad all of a sudden,” Darryl said.
“Two weeks after the Powers that Be offered you the Oath,” Nita said. “And the Lone One spent that whole time trying to make it impossible for you to find the words.”
“Didn’t work, though,” Kit said, and he was grinning too, now. “Not with you. You may have had to fight to get the Oath out, word by word and phrase by phrase, sure, and It may have kept derailing you. But you wouldn’t be derailed. You got it out at last.”
“And passed your Ordeal the minute you managed to finish it,” Nita said.”
So that was actually over before the book starts. But, I guess, Darryl’s situation at the start of the book is explained by how busy he still is inside his own head.
My problem is that I was totally ready to assume that a kid who spends a lot of time apparently staring into space in a special ed classroom, who doesn’t speak, who self-harms– could totally be a wizard.
It didn’t occur to me to go “But how can he be a wizard if he can’t talk? How can he do spells?” (which I’m assuming ought to be the most obvious problem) because I know that some people can’t speak but can write or type just fine, or can’t usually speak but can recite things they’ve pre-prepared, or can use sign language. And I also know now thanks to the author’s Tumblr that there are assumed to be versions of the Speech for every form of communication any alien species might possibly have, even if they don’t come up in the books. And that there definitely are deaf human wizards who use a sign language version.
And I guess we aren’t supposed to accept that. Darryl’s situation at the start of the book is supposed to be a problem. We’re supposed to be expecting him to be way more capable of passing at the end of the book when everything is normal. And it makes sense, yes, for most of the book he’s spending a huge amount of mental energy on something no one knows is going on, and it makes sense for him to have way more energy for things like talking to people once he’s free of that.
But sitting in a special ed classroom not visibly paying attention, and not speaking, and self-harming, is some people’s everyday normal. That’s what they’re capable of when they’re not fighting epic battles in their mind, just thinking about everyday things. And those people can still be smart, can still be eloquent when they’re able to use words, can still have opinions and understand what’s going on around them, and, in a world where wizards exist at all, could presumably be wizards too.
I thought this was a story about an autistic kid who might be labelled “low-functioning”, and it turned out to be a story about a kid who usually goes through life with minimal autism-related problems, but gets temporarily inconvenienced with them. That’s why I was confused.