Soul Catcher: Compelling and suspenseful, but repetitive

Frank Herbert Soul CatcherSoul Catcher by Frank Herbert SFF book reviewsSoul Catcher by Frank Herbert

Charles Hobuhet, an intelligent doctoral student in anthropology, is a Native American who holds a secret grudge against the Europeans who came to America, not only because of what they did to his race, but also because a group of them raped and killed his sister years ago. When Charles is stung by a bee and thinks he’s been given the title of Soul Catcher by the bee’s spirit, he believes he’s been tasked with a mission that will make the whites finally pay for their crimes. Renaming himself Katsuk, he kidnaps David, the young son of a wealthy high-status government official, and sets out on a journey with the boy — a journey that is supposed to end with the sacrifice of David. Thus David, an innocent boy, will be the payment for the white men’s sins.

And these sins are numerous. Not only did the whites steal the land from the natives, but the way they live on the land destroys it and they are oblivious of this fact, or else they don’t care. They don’t understand the rhythms of the land, the universe, or even the rhythms of their own bodies. They talk too much but don’t understand the origins of their own language. They are individualistic, they don’t support each other. They don’t care enough to learn the difference between Native Americans and people from India — they call them all Indians and consider Indians inferior to themselves.

The premise of Soul Catcher is compelling and the plot is suspenseful. Will Charles/Katsuk go through with the sacrifice? Has he been called by a god, or is he just crazy? Will the searchers find David and kill Charles? Will David escape? How will other Native Americans view Charles’s actions? Will David and Charles come to admire and understand each other? (Hint: it doesn’t end like I expected it to.)

Ethical questions arise. How should the Native Americans seek retribution? Is Charles’s plan for revenge out of proportion to the crime (and if so, which way)? Is David a suitable sacrifice? Is it fair? If not, then what would be? I was also interested in Charles’s internal struggle between the science he was trained in at the universities he attended and the spiritual teachings of his ancestors.

Despite my interest in the story, I have to admit that, even though it’s relatively short (216 pages, 8¾ hours on audio), Soul Catcher drags too often. The main flaw with the novel is that Charles’s introspections and complaints become repetitive. Most of the story involves Charles and David walking through the woods while Charles thinks about how he hates white people and David wonders if he’s going to die. This is gripping only for so long, but I did genuinely come to care for David and hoped he wouldn’t be killed in the end.

Soul Catcher, first published in 1972, has just been produced in audio format by Blackstone Audio. It’s read by Scott Brick who’s one of those guys who’s always narrating old science fiction novels. I love his voice and he knows what he’s doing. This is a great production.


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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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2 comments

  1. I read this a long time ago, closer to its publication date. I felt the way (some impatience with Katsuk); and I thought the ending was kind of predictable for the time period. I appreciated Herbert’s wrestling with a complex ethical issue about the nature of imperialism, though.

    • Wow, Marion, I admire that you can remember books you read so long ago. Part of why I started writing reviews is so I could remember them later.

      It is a complex issue and I appreciated it, too. I didn’t expect the ending, but I knew from what others have said, that it wasn’t necessarily going to turn out well.

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