Book Review: Nathaniel, By John Saul

I’m going to be spoiler free with all my book reviews, talking more about what elements I liked, or didn’t like, rather than plot points. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s reading experience.

Before I get on with the review, I’d like to talk about why I went back and forth on whether to post this. This is my first unfavorable review and, being a writer, I know how a review like this would make me feel. However, I also thought the benefits of talking about why I didn’t connect with this book may help writers understand the kind of things that turn readers away. For that reason, I decided to post the review. As with any author, one positive or negative review is not indicative of every book they’ve ever written. There are plenty of Dean Koontz books I don’t care for. But there are also plenty I love. The only way we’ll ever find out is to pick each book up, read, and discover what we like, or don’t like.

Now, let’s get on with the review!

Nathaniel coverFrom the publisher:

From the blood of the past, evil rises to seek undying vengeance… Prairie Bend.

Brilliant summers amid golden fields. Killing winters of razorlike cold. A peaceful, neighborly village, darkened by legends of death? Who is Nathaniel? For a hundred years, the people of Prairie Bend have whispered the name in wonder and fear. Some say he is simply a folk tale – a legend created to frighten children on cold winter nights. Some swear he is a terrifying spirit returned to avenge the past. And soon…very soon…some will come to believe that Nathaniel lives still – darkly, horrifyingly real. Nathaniel.

For young Michael Hall, newly arrived in isolated Prairie Bend after having lost his father to a sudden tragic accident, Nathaniel is the voice that calls him across the prairie night…the voice that draws him into the shadowy depths of the old, crumbling barn where he has been forbidden to go…the voice – chanting, compelling – he will follow faithfully beyond the edge of terror…Nathaniel.

As you can see from the blurb, Michael and his mother arrive in the farming town of Prairie Bend after the “accidental” death of his father. They are taken in by his grandparents who they’ve never seen, or knew of, before. Mr. Saul’s writing is good. I had no problem with his style of writing. I had a huge problem with how the story unfolded and the characters. I simply didn’t care. I didn’t care about Michael. I didn’t care about Janet. I didn’t care about Amos. I didn’t care that they lost a loved one. I didn’t care about the paranormal aspect. I didn’t care about the town. I didn’t care about the secret. Three chapters in I closed the book and said aloud, “I don’t care.” That is never a good thing.

After that I skimmed. I would stop from time to time to give the book a fourth or fifth chance, only to be let down again. Mr. Saul failed to grab me as a reader. To be fair to him, this book was published in 1984. The publishing landscape had a completely different look and feel than it does today.

By the third chapter all that’s happened is a funeral and Michael has the creeps. Seriously. Readers are forced to sit through page upon page of character building with no real action. We learn Michael’s father never talked about his family. We learn Janet is pregnant. We learn Janet is having trouble coping with the sudden death of her husband. Blah, blah, blah. The problem is we learn all of this at a snail’s pace. At no point did I feel like this was a horror story. Mr. Saul tried to incorporate some scary elements through Michael feeling things. But, in my opinion, this was a stretch at best.

And I wanted something to happen. When things did happen they were either too meager, or too little too late. When the “I don’t care” seed has been planted in a reader’s brain, it’s hard to keep them turning pages. That’s what happened with me. Once I found myself not caring, each page became increasingly harder to turn. In an age where time is money, a slow churning book is a hard sell. I’ve got a TBR list a mile long. I don’t have time to waste on something I don’t care about. I’m sure most of you don’t either.

What I liked:

  • Mr. Saul has some serious writing chops.
  • The prologue managed to capture my attention and leave me with a few healthy questions.
  • There are a few creepy spots in this book.

What I didn’t like:

  • It takes too long for this story to get going.
  • I didn’t connect with any of the characters.
  • Hopping from character to character within chapters was a bit tedious.
  • Not enough action, or action that feels too inconsequential.
  • The ending didn’t feel satisfying.
  • The plot failed to grab me.
  • I simply didn’t care what happened.

Overall: I’d give Nathaniel, by John Saul, two out of five stars. This book failed to grab me. It slowly tried to build characters and tension, at the expense of any action, leaving readers bored. Written in 1984, this book felt somewhat dated. While I did enjoy Mr. Saul’s writing, I’m sorry to say this particular novel didn’t work for me. That’s not to say others won’t love it. This simply wasn’t enough for my particularly picky tastes. I’m not giving up on Mr. Saul, or recommending others do either. In fact, I plan on reading The Right Hand of Evil by him sometime soon. Always read based on your tastes. I know I do.

John Saul’s official website can be found here.

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