“I’d say World War III, but it’s more like a complete and total unhinging of history…. Dervish is going to hunt down your son, Glory.”

Bestselling children’s novelist N.D. Wilson has produced his best and bloodiest yet in The Last of the Lost Boys, the rich and heady finale to the Outlaws of Time trilogy. It is his first novel that almost made me cry. And it is the only novel in my life that I immediately turned over and started again.

Here are heroes I want to be, children I want to raise, evils I want to fight, and above all, a God I already love. By the end, I was buzzing. I felt like someone had popped my lungs free and engorged my heart with twice the blood. It is a fire-breathing, intoxicating book.

Wilson began Outlaws 3 with a silent killer between his ears and finished it on the eve of invasive brain surgery to remove the tumor that had already destroyed all left-ear hearing. He named his would-be assassin “Steve,” whom he thanks in the afterword (cheerfully): “for leaving.”

Yes, thank you, Steve, for leaving. But thank you first for coming.

Is it too soon to detect a change in Wilson’s style? Not a sea change, but a strengthening of current. If Death by Living was a shout, The Last of the Lost Boys is a roar. Wilson’s anthem of faith in the Storyteller and thankfulness for this glad and rugged mortality rings with battle-tested zest. Operation Steve didn’t wobble any foundations. It proved them. And Wilson wears the scars with gale-force gratitude.

After all, he said, he’s done worse than partial deafness to his characters.

He certainly does far worse to Alex Monroe.

A Plot to Steal Your Heart

“He walked down the path of villains…”

Lazy daydreamer 13-year-old Alex wants an adventure just like his favorite novels. But he is nothing like his beloved book heroes, and life in rural Idaho in 1982 seems unlikely to offer him a story remotely worth writing a book about—until he discovers his true parents are none other than Sam and Glory Miracle. When Mrs. Dervish invites Alex to inherit the Vulture’s powers, along with the truth about what happened to his parents, he makes a terrible choice…and is transformed into the supervillain El Terremoto.

Under Mrs. Dervish’s control, Alex is sent to the heart of the Aztec Empire to be not just a weapon in her hand, but meat on a hook to lure his future parents to his rescue—and their deaths. There, on the blood-soaked pyramids in the middle of a war between the Aztecs and Cortez, history will be remade. And Mrs. Dervish’s revenge will be complete.

Or Alex can refuse. And die.

Join Sam, Glory, Jude, Millie, and Father Tiempo as they race to stop Mrs. Dervish’s apocalypse—not just a battle for the world, but a battle for the soul of a lost boy. It all comes down to the question: Whose son will Alex be—Sam Miracle’s or the Vulture’s? Whom will he call mother—Glory or Mrs. Dervish?

Heroes Are Made at Home

Mrs. Dervish’s eyes widened. “Oh,” she said. And she giggled. “There he is. There’s a boy fit to ravish the world.”

The Last of the Lost Boys gloriously recapitulates many of Wilson’s choicest themes but kicks everything up a notch. Try a lot of notches. This is straight 192-proof Wilson vodka. It is quite unlike him to pull his punches, but this firestorm will make you think he’s been going easy on us.

Brace for the bloodiest adventure yet. The violence isn’t just in hand-to-hand fighting. It’s in the mood. The setting. The pure scale of bloodshed. The fiendish climax goes down even as Aztecs are ripping out beating hearts (at a PG-13 distance). Heroes fall, catastrophe rains like hellfire, and there’s far worse in the wings… All because a single boy made a choice he knew was wrong.

Alex is a unique protagonist. We’ve seen heroes called away on quests, but now the hero is the quest. The villain doesn’t want to kill him or stop him or steal the dragon’s tooth, they want him. He is their ultimate weapon. The fresh setup creates a dire, heart-in-throat energy as we wonder, how can Alex ever un-become El Terremoto?

Alex tore his sweater off, and his Star Wars shirt beneath it. “You’re a witch,” he snarled, “and you’re going to die.”

Which leads me to one of the book’s finest truths. Alex’s character development—from dreamer to villain to hero—graphically proves the importance of growing up on good stories. You’ll remember in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that one of the reasons Eustace is such a disaster is that he’d read “none of the right books.” Alex’s biggest advantage is that he has. Though he makes a foolish choice, he at least knows the kind of hero he wishes he could be. His familiarity with good and evil is the only reason he hesitates at Mrs. Dervish’s offer; it sounds wrong. And this knowledge is ultimately what saves him. He doesn’t want to be Sauron, and he says so.

The grand overall point here is that heroes are made at home. The very worst of Alex results from “little” failures in everyday life, both his and his parents: excusing flaws, indulging weaknesses, refusing to fight the tiny dragons. But the very best of Alex is also the fruit of a father who laughs, a mother who cooks. He is the happy product of home-made bread, chores, laughter, sweatpants, bacon, Star Wars t-shirts, and stuffed animals.

Superheroes don’t spring fully grown from Zeus’s head. They come from duplexes.

Gratitude is Your Superpower

“Some of the darkest deeds in history accidentally handed victory to goodness.”

But now for that quality I mentioned at the beginning, a quality more potent in The Last of the Lost Boys than in any of Wilson’s other novels—what he calls “death by living.” The Wilson family’s personal motto, “death by living” has been a series regular for years now (notably in Ashtown three and Outlaws one and two), but what’s astonishing here is its intensity.

The idea is as faceted as a diamond and as heavy as a waterfall. It is the gladdest and fiercest of loves between husband and wife, parents and child, brother and sister, friend and friend. It is faith in the Author’s goodness. Laughter in death’s valley. The wild ache for adventure and all its bumps and bruises. Bone-deep hunger to live and die as heroes. Willingness, like Sam Miracle, to “suffer and bleed for any soul in any time, to hurl himself at any villain.” And perhaps especially, the overwhelming gratitude that crowns it all.

Wilson brings us home to a high hill from which he invites us to see the world as it really is. And embrace it. Eyes and arms wide open. Take the flawed characters. Take the old age. Take the stark grace in the shadows. Take life with its intense carnage and profound blessing. Take it all. With gratitude.

Warning: The Last of the Lost Boys won’t leave you alone. Like Alex, you will be changed. Because there’s only one place such gratitude can take you: into the grave.

You may not be called to wander the terrifying paths between times, or slay demonic monsters on the pinnacle of pyramids, or walk away from your baby in order to save the world. But you will be called to wander the terrifying paths between bouts of chemotherapy, to slay demons of self-pity and bitterness and lust, to walk away from the grave of the baby whom you buried in faith, knowing God will give him back in a sunny land where miscarriages have been put to death.

You may not be called to take a blade to your heart, but you will be called to stretch out on the cross minute by minute, choice by choice, in far less immediately glorious ways.

But not to worry. You will be raised on the other side. Hands that are empty are ready to receive back a far kinglier gift than that which they gave up. So let go the lazy life. Stop dreaming of being a hero, be the hero. Read the right books. Make breakfast. Shovel snow. Be faithful in little. The life of the world depends on ordinary people living ordinary lives with scrambled eggs and Christmas lights and bedtime stories.

Be the hero from the duplex.

 Outlaws of Time 3 releases April 17. Want a signed copy? Preorder here. Want any copy? Preorder anywhere and receive a free audiobook of Leepike Ridge, N.D. Wilson’s first children’s novel. Visit OutlawsOfTime.com