Soul Catcher by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Fans of Frank Herbert in general need to check their expectations at the door when picking up this novel. It is his only traditional fiction novel. That is to say, it is not a genre novel at all.
Normally, this shouldn't mean diddly squat to readers, but the world being what it is, a lot of stupidity arises. The author of Dune wrote a novel that is not only on par with the very best novels of ANY branch of literature but he is still not given the honest credit he is due.
A good seven years after Dune, he wrote a complex, multi-layered tale of coming-of-age and revenge with no elements of SF or Fantasy, writing it very well and taking quite a few chances with it. In other words, it ought to have received a lot of critical appreciation not just for its careful representations of a Native American scholar-turned-shaman who takes the path of representational revenge to a very emotional conclusion, but for the careful duality of innocence and experience.
Of course, no novel like this would be written in today's market. That doesn't mean it's a bad novel -- only that many people would object to it on grounds that have nothing to do with the actual writing.
Such as? Well, in today's world, we'd hear cries of cultural appropriation. It's Frank Herbert writing from the PoV of a conflicted American Indian who went through our educational system and rejected it, instead going down a hard path of kidnapping a son of a high-ranking US politician for the sake of killing him in a highly representational, ritualistic way as a way to set things right for what had happened to his people.
The fact that the ending does not conform with the teachings does not say anything bad about the rest of the novel's careful depictions of Native American ideas. It DOES say a lot about the anti-hero of the tale, however. I'm very impressed by it. Dark endings, tragedies, even when they are couched as an inevitable good, are hard to pull off. Frank Herbert did both, equally condemning the white man AND the Native American without doing it obviously. Indeed, the message of eventual respect and spirit and soul, in context, gave me hope that there COULD be true understanding between peoples.
When that understanding is twisted, however, bad things always come.
No. This is not an SF or F novel by a man known far and wide as a brilliant SF novelist. But it IS a great novel full of subtlety, action, and heart.
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