Goodreads: The Legend of Sam Miracle
Series: Outlaws of Time #1
Published: April 2016
Sam Miracle doesn’t remember much about his past. He only knows that his arms don’t work now and that the couple who runs the boys’ home told him his parents died in a car crash. But sometimes he has daydreams that seem so real he can almost believe he was there. In those dreams, he is the fastest gunslinger in the West and he is on a journey to save his sister.
Then one day a mysterious man arrives, claiming he knows Sam and that it’s his destiny to go back in time to fight an old foe. Along with his new friend Glory, Sam will return to the West and attempt to put history right.
Over the years I have grown to love N. D. Wilson’s work with its unique dedication to taking the legends and history of American and using them to transform specific geographic locations into places of magic–places of magic that even an ordinary child can enter. That, combined with his commitment to writing diverse casts and showcasing a wide array of strong female characters makes Wilson, as a modern writer, something special. Unfortunately, however, while I enjoyed The Legend of Sam Miracle, I think it does not reach the level of quality that I have come to expect from his work on the 100 Cupboards trilogy and the Ashtown Burials series.
Strikingly, despite Wilson’s gift for creating compelling characters, from Antigone Smith to Arachne, the characters in this book fall flat. Sam is mostly defined by his memory loss and his penchant for ignoring directions and thus getting everyone into trouble. Repeatedly. His sister Millie seems like a spirited character, but barely appears. Glory, the girl who travels with Sam to the past, barely registered for me as a character at all. She starts out promisingly as someone with bravery, strength, and a love of independence–and then she sort of fades away.
The lack of characterization connects with some problematic depictions. Millie, as I have noted, seems like a strong and spirited character–but she has little opportunity to demonstrate that in this book because she only appears a few times in captivity. I have no problem with a female being captive and rescued now and then–Sam is always being rescued in this book because he’s dumb, so Millie can be rescued once if that means in the next book she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. She raised her brother after the death of their parents. She is strong. But Wilson barely uses that to his advantage here.
Glory also troubles me because she really doesn’t do much in this story. I’m not sure what her talents are other than having a better memory than Sam, and it’s really not clear why she was taken on this journey. Yes, she has a lot of perseverance, but why take her of all people on a journey into the past? I wanted Glory to do something. She didn’t.
Again, I’m not sure this is a gendered issue because Sam Miracle really doesn’t do anything, either, except constantly put his mission in jeopardy. Finally he does do something useful–but [Spoiler alert!] it’s because he’s magically enhanced. And I wonder–is it impressive if you’re the fastest gunslinger in the West if you’re only that way because of magic? I wanted to see Sam train and really have to work for his skills. Not have a day or two perfecting control over the magic and then BAM! he’s the best now.
All this means that the most interesting, most skilled, and most detailed characters are the Navajo men who help Sam on his journey. Father Tiempo can travel through time and this “legend of Sam Miracle” is really his story–he’s the one constantly trying to manipulate events to set history to rights and save the world, while Sam does whatever he wants because he’s a boy and doesn’t care about the world, apparently. Father Tiempo’s brother can talk to animals and heal. And that brother’s son is a spirited boy who desires to fight evil. This book is really about their fight and their sacrifices to save others–but for some reason it’s written around Sam.
Finally, after all this, it seems clear to me that the book should have been written as a stand-alone. Sam is taken to the past, saves his sister, and fights the bad guy. The end. That’s the story. But suddenly near the close of the book, Wilson decides that to stretch the story out he will scatter seven Horcruxes–sorry, seven gardens–around, so the villain can’t be faced until they are destroyed. This is totally unnecessary.
At this point, I can’t say I’m very excited about reading two more books of this story unless Glory, Millie, and Father Tiempo receive some better treatment going forward. Sam can do what he wants. I really don’t care about him, even if he is the protagonist. Because N. D. Wilson has written so incredibly in the past, I am willing to take a chance and continue with the Outlaws of Time despite the rough start. But I admit I am incredibly disappointed.