N. D. Wilson is the Master of American Magic. There is no other middle-grade author who writes such powerful fantasy with an American accent. And I don’t mean Wilson’s own accent, though he does go in for hard Rs. I mean the stories themselves. They are the kinds of tales you can’t imagine being narrated by one of our cousins from across the pond. How many fantasy stories do you know like that? His stories are wide open and wild, full of fastballs and six-shooters. The settings are Kansas, Wisconsin, Arizona, and (best of all) West Virginia.
In his latest fantasy, Wilson has given us a Miracle, and more than that, Glory. Sam Miracle and Glory Spalding find themselves caught up in an old war between Father Time and Fate, trapped in a recycling series of calamities that always leave the evil Vulture cackling over the bones of his victims, including Sam’s sister. Sam and Glory are not in a race against time, but a war across time, and every line in their adventure is punctuated by pain.
Pain? But I though this was a kids book. Pain. Yes. Lots of it. This story isn’t safe. But it’s good. It’s very good.
N. D. Wilson writes scary stories on purpose. You can listen to him talk about why in this excellent podcast with Sarah Mackanzie, or read his essay in The Atlantic. Here’s a small part:
Overwhelmingly, in my own family and far beyond, the stories that land with the greatest impact are those where darkness, loss, and danger (emotional or physical) is a reality. But the goal isn’t to steer kids into stories of darkness and violence because those are the stories that grip readers. The goal is to put the darkness in its place. (read it all here)
This book puts darkness in its place, alright. It comes out, guns blazing. Fires fast as a rattler, with both hands. Yes, the main character is a boy with snake arms who shoots guns. Yes, this was somehow allowed to be published in this YOZO (Year of Our Zeitgeist Overlords) 2016. This era in publishing (not to mention education, politics, and media of every kind) is marked by a persistent hostility to boys. It’s refreshing to read a story so friendly to young male readers. I’m grateful! We all should be. There is nothing that would keep girls (who read better and more often than boys at every age level) from enjoying this excellent book. My own brilliant daughter loved it. But Outlaws of Time is rare modern fare that gives boys an example to follow, a hero willing to lay down his life, in a quest to fight evil and rescue one he loves. It’s an old story that’s never cliche. In many ways it’s the story. And here it is again, with snake arms and a time-walking Navaho priest. Wilson, a modern writer who has somehow found the escape-hatch in the tedious, boring prison of p.c. storytelling, is the real Outlaw of Time.
Nate Wilson is a friend, and (disclosure) he gave me an advanced copy of the book. I’ve heard him talk about why (good) scary stories are good (and scary) for kids before. But the recent heap of goodness on the subject came at a particularly important time for me, as I wrestle through the darkness in my next book, The Green Ember Book II: Ember Falls. His wisdom on this subject has sharpened my resolve to lead my readers, many very young, into the mirky waters of a troubling tale. The light shines bright against the darkness, but is unnoticeable when simply set against more light. N. D. Wilson’s light burns like an Arizona sunrise. Long may it light up the sky and scatter the darkness.
I loved Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle. My kids (both female and male he created them) loved it. My wife loved it. They read the paper version and I listened to (American) Macleod Andrews perform the audiobook with energy and mastery. I highly recommend it.
Here’s a video trailer to make the case far better than I can. Behold, a Miracle.