Book Review: House of Reckoning by John Saul

6340346Title: House of Reckoning

Author: John Saul

Genre: Thriller, Horror

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 4,5 stars

Purchase: Amazon, Goodreads, B&N

After the untimely death of her mother, fourteen-year-old Sarah Crane is forced to grow up quickly in order to help tend her family’s Vermont farm and look after her grieving father, who’s drowning his sorrow in alcohol. But their quiet life together is shattered when her father is jailed for killing another man in a barroom brawl and injuring Sarah in a drunken car crash. Left in the cold care of a loveless foster family and alienated at school, Sarah finds a kindred spirit in classmate Nick Dunnigan, a former mental patient still plagued by voices and visions. And in eccentric art instructor Bettina Phillips, Sarah finds a mentor eager to nurture her talent for painting.

But within the walls of Bettina’s ancestral home, the mansion called Shutters, Sarah finds something altogether different and disturbing. Monstrous images from the house’s dark history seem to flow unbidden from Sarah’s paintbrush–images echoed by Nick’s chilling hallucinations. Trapped for ages in the shadowy rooms of Shutters, the violence and fury of long-dead generations have finally found a gateway from the grave into the world of the living. And Sarah and Nick have found a power they never had: to take control, and take revenge.

House of Reckoning starts out with fourteen-year-old Sarah Crane, who’s mother died a few months ago, and who gets hit by her Dad’s car when he returns from a night in town, completely wasted. She gets injured badly and will limp for the rest of her life. Her dad gets sent to jail for killing a man earlier that night. Sarah is forced to go live with a foster family, who only accepted the outsiders’ presence for the money it brought them. They’re quick to remind Sarah she has no rights, should do all the chores in the house, etc. The daughter of the family, who has to share a room with Sarah, is less than pleased and starts teasing her at school as well.

Then there’s Nick Dunnigan, a classmate of Sarah’s, who is shunned by most of the high school population as well. Nick hears voices in his mind, countless voices, and all of them tell him to do bad things. Therapy doesn’t help and neither does medicine, although he’d like his Mom to believe it does. But the moment Nick sees Sarah, the voices shut up. He’s surprised by the silence, since they’ve been babbling on for God knows how long, and yearns to find out more about this strange girl who can make the voices go quiet.

Sarah quickly bonds with her arts’ teacher, Bettina. While the entire town thinks Bettina is a witch because she leaves in an old, weathered mansion called Shutters, Sarah finds a kindred spirit in the teacher, who cares for her more than her foster family ever will. But Shutters is a strange place, where the shadowy ghosts of the past live on, haunting the mansion and harming whoever enters with ill-intentions towards its inhabitants…

I liked the idea behind Shutters. It’s not just an “evil” house, the evil is directed toward those who try to harm its inhabitants. I also enjoyed reading about the house’s history, how it used to be a hospital where they took care of the mentally ill, how one sick man turned all those good intentions around and brought forth an ancient evil in doing so. The house itself was so vibrant and entertaining it almost became a character all on its own. Shutters was, by far, my favorite character.

I also liked Sarah. She refused to give up, no matter how many hardships life threw at her, and I can respect that. Nick was okay as well. He was a little less eager to take charge, and was content doing whatever Sarah told him to do. Nevertheless, I liked his personality and thought he was at times quite charming. Bettina was all right as well, even though I wonder why she didn’t just tell the truth earlier. Everybody in town thought she was a witch, while she was probably the sanest person there.

But then there’s the secondary characters, and that’s where the story gets a little meh. Mostly because half what those characters do, doesn’t make sense. It’s over the top, sometimes downright ridiculous and weird. Especially Sarah’s foster family. On top of that, all the father figures kind of act the same way, which doesn’t make a lot of sense either. The secondary characters could use a rewrite, and a lot more personality.

Apart from that, this was a great book. Not that scary, but entertaining enough to keep me reading, and it gave me some goosebumps here and there.

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