Boys of Blur by N. D. Wilson: Beowulf in the Everglades
Updated: Jan 3, 2020
Overall rating: 9/10
Quality of writing: 10/10
Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): some
Age level: 10 and up
Author N. D. Wilson juxtaposes the plot of the epic poem Beowulf with a contemporary fantasy backstory and characters in this book, creating a multilayered work of complex and engaging fiction that deals with elements of corruption by evil, sacrifice, and forgiveness. Fans of Beowulf will easily recognize characters such as Wiglaf, Beowulf, and Grendel’s mother from the original epic; however, Boys of Blur is not merely a retelling of Beowulf, but rather a new legend based on the framework of the ancient tale. As one reviewer has said, “Wilson constantly reckons with the good, the bad, and the ugly in his works”—Boys of Blur is no exception. The bad guys are really, truly evil (not that they are age-inappropriate) and the reader cannot mistake them for anything but the “bad guys.” Conversely, the “good guys” are noble and self-sacrificial (despite a few character flaws—they’re not perfect, after all). Overall, Boys of Blur is a superb work of fiction that infuses Christian ideals and contemporary writing style into an ancient pagan myth, creating a complex and “gritty” tale that readers of all ages can enjoy.
The plot of this book (which is admittedly rather intricate) begins when a funeral brings Charlie Mack, together with his mother, sister, and stepdad back to the Florida town of Taper, where football is more important than almost anything else, and the swamp is only a stone’s throw away. Soon, old rivalries start to rise to the surface, as football conflicts reappear, racial tension builds (Charlie’s father is white; his stepfather, black), and a mysterious man appears in the swamp, along with his two panthers.
While the plot is complex, most readers will be able to follow it and enjoy its unique twists and turns; Wilson adds interest to the storyline using action and suspense, bringing it to a satisfying conclusion in a mere 195 pages. As I mentioned before, Wilson does borrow heavily from Beowulf; however, this does not mean the plot is dry or boring at all: on the contrary, it is interesting and full of exciting action. Overall, the plot of Boys of Blur is exceptionally well-crafted and deserves a 9.5 out of 10.
Wilson’s characters are, more than anything else, extremes: the protagonists exemplify courage and self-sacrifice, whereas the villains are undoubtedly, entirely evil (think Voldemort from the Harry Potter books). Not that the characters are static ideals (either of good or evil)—on the contrary, they often develop their extremes of character over the course of the story. Take Charlie, the protagonist, for example: at the beginning of the story, he is unsure of himself and a bit self-centered, but by the end he is confident and selfless enough to attack and kill the evil "Mother," even if it means sacrificing himself, in order to save his cousin Cotton. Through this technique (semi-idealized, non-static characters), Wilson is able to write a book that, while it isn’t overtly “Christian literature,” is definitely “Christian” in the fullest sense of the word (similar to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings). Overall, Wilson’s characters are well-developed and deserve a 9.5 out of 10.
This book is a bit more difficult of a read than many in its age range: Wilson’s creative and unique descriptions, as well as the somewhat complex plot and character relations make this not the easiest of reads. That said, younger readers (age 10-ish) can read and enjoy this book—they may just miss some of the levels of meaning Wilson incorporates. On the whole, I would say that readers get back what they put into reading this book: many age levels can read and enjoy it, but the older and more educated the reader, the better they will understand and appreciate it. (5.5/10)
Quality of writing
As I have already covered some of the material that should go in this section under other subpoints, I’ll keep this section brief. Suffice it to say that Wilson’s personal style is unique and unlike any other—in an entirely good way. Consider this passage, for example: “A laugh, blocks distant, trickled to them over the broken asphalt. A dog bark chased it away.” Wilson often anthropomorphizes objects or uses nouns as verbs (in one of his other books, an object is said to “popcorn” away) throughout his writing; the result is a contemporary and engaging style that is quite unique. (9.5/10)
As I mentioned before, Wilson’s villains are undoubtedly “evil’—while this does not involve any age-inappropriate language or behaviors, it does mean that there are quite a few “scary” scenes over the course of the book. The primary antagonists throughout the book, for example, are the “Gren”: mud-covered, re-animated corpses. However, in the mechanics of Wilson’s fantasy world, the Gren must be defeated by being pushed into a body of water (not stabbed, beheaded, etc.). In terms of violence, a couple of characters are killed by slashes from claws and blades, and one character is stabbed, but there is no super-graphic violence. There is also one “iffy” scene in terms of language: a group of characters are called “lazy-a** boys.” Overall, this book has some violence and “scary” scenes, as well as one questionable word, but falls far short of the amount of mature content found in many modern books. Parents of readers should exercise their own judgement about this book. (5/10)
Considering the previous section, this book can be read by readers as young as age 10; however, many will want to wait until later. Overall, this book is recommended for readers from age 10 up.