Nita hasn't yet gotten over her mother's death from cancer, and her sister, Dairene, isn't much better. Nita has been holding the family together since her Dad went to pieces, and just trying to be the responsible one is a huge strain. Her sister has been cutting classes left and right, so much so that their father must speak to the principal about it. Neither girl likes being the one that other kids whisper about, but Nita tries to ignore it while Dairene just cuts school so she doesn't have to hear it.
But today, Nita is tired of dealing with her sister. When she won't get up on time, Nita sends her sister's bed to Pluto and forces her to go to school. That night, she has a dream about a clown that somehow becomes a robot and tries to talk to her. Nita is convinced that it is some alien race trying to contact Dairene for her help. But since their mom died, Dairene has been sleeping so deeply it can be impossible to contact her. Nita simply assumes that the race tried for the next best thing and got her, instead.
Kit, with Nita so tied up in her own problems, has been contacted by one of the Senior wizards and asked to look into a problem with another young wizard on Ordeal. He left on ordeal months ago and is still listed as being on ordeal. It's an unusual situation, as well as somewhat worrying. Carl, the senior, feels that a wizard the same age as Darryl (the wizard on ordeal) might be better able to investigate what is going on.
Kit finds that Darryl is autistic, and that somehow his body is still here, but his mind seems to be missing. Using his dog, Ponch, he is literally able to get into Darryl's head, but finds that it links to a place so far away it is literally almost outside the local group of galaxies. There, the Lone Power has been trying to catch Darryl, but he is giving it the slip, time and time again. Kit and Ponch witness one of these escapes, and the Lone Power's anger and frustration with Darryl. Kit is surprised that any one wizard could do such a thing, but being inside Darryl is more fatiguing than he anticipated, and he cannot stay for very long.
Nita gets a chance to talk to Dairene about her dream, but Dairene tells her it doesn't sound like one of the inorganic species she usually interacts with. It sounds more like a person, singular, with a strange point of view. Nita talks it over with Carl, and decides to do some more studying of her manual. She also makes a lucid dreaming necklace and goes to meet the robot/clown again, only to see that this time it is a suit of knight's armor that strikes her as being fierce and valorous, all at the same time. It tells her it can be in a number of places at once, and when Nita is out of her dreams, she researches what can do that, and finds out that it is a Pillar, one of the people responsible for literally holding up the world and seeing that magic flows properly.
Something clicks in Nita, and she realizes that this person is Darryl, the same wizard that Kit has been trying to help. However, the more people who know about the Pillar, the more dangerous it will be for Darryl. And Darryl cannot be allowed to know what he is, as that would destroy his power by attacking his own sense of who he is. But something bad seems to be happening to Kit, and despite agreeing to leave off for a few days, he is once again drawn back into Darryl, and Nita must go to help both of them, without revealing to Darry what he is, and without letting the Lone Power free.
This was a very interesting book to read. A little depressing, especially at the beginning, when Nita is mired in sadness, grief and self-doubt, but it picks up when Nita slowly gets better over the course of the book. The problem of Darryl is an interesting one, and seeing what reality is like from inside the head of an autistic person is an experience not to be missed.
Additionally, the book is a ripping adventure that will engage and interest readers both young and old. Diane Duane, who pokes fun at adults who have forgotten what it was *really* like to be a child, with all the sadness, anger and fear as well as the fun and good times, but shows that even with those, it's still possible to go on. Not by wiping out the bad, but by letting the good ameliorate it, and shows how to survive grief as well. A wonderful read that may be a little deep at time, but give me deep over shallow, any day!