Young wizards Kit Rodriguez and Nita Callahan become part of an elite team investigating the mysterious, long-sought "message in a bottle" that holds the first clues to the secrets of the long-lost inhabitants of Mars. But not even wizardry is enough to cope with the strange events that start to unfold when the "bottle" is uncorked and life emerges once more to shake the Red Planet with its own perilous and baffling brand of magic.
The good news is that the Martians seem friendly. The bad news is that now they're free to pick up where they left off on a long-dormant plan that could change the shape of more than one world… and they don't mind using their well-intentioned rescuers to achieve their goals. Kit’s long-standing fascination with all things Martian unexpectedly enmeshes him in a terrible, age-old conflict -- turning him into both a possible key to its solution, and a tool that in the wrong hands shortly threatens the whole human race.
Only Kit has a shot at defusing the threat. But when he vanishes unexpectedly from the Mars of here and now, his fellow wizards are left uncertain of where his true loyalties lie. Nita’s determination to find the truth – and Kit – soon sends her into battle against an implacable enemy who may not be conquerable except by violating wizardry’s most basic tenets.
As the shadow of interplanetary war stretches ever more darkly over both worlds, Kit and Nita must fight to understand and master the strange and ancient synergy binding them to Mars and its last inhabitants… or the history that left Mars lifeless will repeat itself on Earth.
From Kirkus Reviews: "One of the finest current writers of speculative fiction pays loving homage to its Golden Age in this ninth title in the Young Wizards series. ...Duane's worldbuilding gleams with crystalline precision, a-glitter with lapidary characterization. Mundane dilemmas integrate smoothly with world-shaking crises, shot through with sparkling humor, and space-opera adventures resolve upon the subtle ethical interplay between right choices for wrong reasons, wrong choices for right reasons and all the shades of gray in between. ...For [the series's] many fans, an eminently satisfying addition. Best of all, unresolved subplots promise number ten is on the way."
Special commendation, Anne Spencer Lindbergh Prize in Children's Literature