Reviews: Boys of Blur

Boys of Blur by N. D. Wilson (Random House, April 2014)

What is it that makes a person a hero?  In classic literature you rarely had to guess.  The heroes were set out before you to defeat the challenges and villains before them.  Beowulf, Arthur . . . these ancient heroes of old and the evils they fight are still familiar, still inform our culture.   And they reappear in our stories, sometimes mere glimmers but still recognizable in form and action.  Even in the small town of Taper, Florida.

Charlie Mack has just moved to this town by the Everglades, where boys chase rabbits through the burning cane and the muck of the swamp runs deep and dark with history.  Both his father and his stepfather have their roots in this town, and Charlie is just beginning to understand how that inheritance affect him and touches on his relationships with others in the town.  But there is more than football and burning cane in Taper.  There are the chalk mounds, and the strange monstrous things in the night that rise from the muck and haunt the cane fields.  They are the Gren . . . and they are hungry.  Heroes will be called upon to risk their lives in the battle between good and evil once again.

As a fan of Beowulf, it’s a bit of literary delight to have N. D. Wilson  weave that old story into this contemporary fantasy adventure.  Those familiar with the classic will swiftly recognize the references here–though a reader doesn’t have to be familiar with the Old English epic to read the book.  Charlie is set to play the main protagonist in this story, to take on the age-old fight in the muck and discover its secrets.  He isn’t the only hero in this story–men and boys bound by blood, history and determination will all have their parts to play before the story is done.

It’s a marvelous story that manages to combine richness and brevity.  A landscape that is easy to visualize in language that invites all the senses to experience the deep muck, the burning cane.  Added to the wild imagery is the more mundane: the small town politics and histories, the rivalry of football.   Our characters are not far distant heroes, but boys and men who live in reality, but are willing to step beyond that reality to fight the old fights.  Our characters live with flaws and troubled pasts, but we’re told that even those who’ve made many mistakes have some good in them.  Then there’s the cane . . . the muck . . . the zombies.  The dangerous and hungry force waiting to break free and devour the town.  Somehow N.D. Wilson manages to mix it all together into a satisfying whole that reads with the swiftness of the boys running. Oh, and in case I forget, this is one more fantasy for the year with a multicultural cast–so good to see a sizable number of them this year, I can only hope it continues!

While there are some female characters here, this essentially a “boy” story–though I think any avid reader could enjoy reading it.   It’s an interesting counterpoint to an earlier fantasy from this year; Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. Both books feature a young protagonist in a new place . . . one where strange forces of evil are at work.  Both books have their protagonist slated to play the role of hero against the looming evil.  In each story our young heroes are seeking to protect and rescue friends and family, and ultimately to be the saviors from a dangerous evil that seeks to reach out over the unknowing modern world.  While for Ophelia, it’s a story of sterile ice and snow, of clean and glamour-ridden evil, in Boys of Blur it’s the muck, the sweat and blood and death.  The dirt and life within it.  These two books form a sort of yin-yang, male/female expression the hero’s journey.

I will admit that when I first heard mention of zombies in connection with this book it almost made me tuck it at the bottom of my reading pile.  I’m glad I didn’t.  These aren’t your typical zombies and the book is seriously worth a few undead monsters.  It’s delicious reading that had me going through it in gulps and sprints.  The writing is strong and vibrant–and rich as the landscape itself.   Mind you, it is a dark adventure tale–so those readers who tend to avoid monster stories and creepy stuff may not be fans.  This is a small town horror story, a boy’s adventure tale, an epic heroic fantasy, a tale of redemption, humanity and hope.  It’s a great ride and going on my book shelf to share with the next reader I can hand it to!

Publisher: Random House Books

Publication Date: April 2014   

ISBN13:    9780449816738

Recommended for grades 4 and up.

Comments welcome! 



About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on April 27, 2014, in General Posts, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I love all Wilson’s books, but this one may be my favorite one. I completely agree with everything you (beautifully) said and also like that it is SHORT. I think the world could use many more short books written this well.

    Love the compare/contrast with Ophelia. That is a comparison I had not thought to make but it works really well. Personally, I enjoyed Boys of Blur far more, but then this is the sort of journey I prefer.

    • Thanks! I’m not sure Ophelia and Blur will appeal to the same readers, but I thought it interesting the way the books fit a similar arc while having opposing elements at the same time.

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