Supernatural: Witch’s Canyon, by Jeff Mariotte — a book review

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Jeff Mariotte has written a lot of things, original works as well as media tie-ins and comic books. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never read anything else he’s ever written, even though he’s made stops in the worlds of Star Trek and Angel. He’s also never written anything else in the Supernatural universe.

Supernatural: Witch’s Canyon was the second Supernatural media tie-in novel published, after Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Supernatural: Nevermore. Not coincidentally, it’s also the second tie-in that I’ve read. Naturally, I’ll be comparing the two, which is probably not fair to either Mariotte or DeCandido.

This novel was published in October 2007, right after Season 3 of the television series began airing. It feels like the story is set during the second season, but there’s no mention of Harvelle’s Roadhouse, Bobby Singer, or crossroads demons, really no indication of a wider hunter culture, which leads me to believe that Mariotte didn’t have access to this information when he was writing the book, or it hadn’t been created yet. The dual origin story about the death of Mary Winchester and the later death of Sam Winchester’s girlfriend Jessica (both of which happened in the very first episode of the series) is, of course, mentioned. You can’t tell the Superman story without mentioning the fact that Krypton blew up and Kal-El wasn’t on it.

The resulting story feels more like a “monster-of-the-week” tale than one that fits into the greater mythology of the series. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some of my favorite episodes are MOWs. However, I’m hoping that future novels will gain a bit more depth that the mythology brings with it.

Like the DeCandido book, this one doesn’t get the characters of Dean and Sam quite right. At least, not as we come to know them. To be fair, the series didn’t always get them right either. The characterization has to be on the page. The more bookish Sam seems to emerge as the stronger of the two brothers. I can understand why Sam’s character would appeal more to guys who make their living writing books, but in the television series, Dean seems to be the more action-oriented, take-charge brother. That could just be my personal head canon, though.

The truth is probably that, during the time the first two tie-in novels were written, the characters still weren’t fully formed even in the minds of Jensen Ackles and Jared Padelecki. Plus, I’ve just finished watching the first third of Season 12, so the characters have also evolved over the years, much like their cell phones.

While the novel begins with a “40 years ago” teaser that is very much in keeping with the television series structure, the rest of the story unfolds more like a traditional horror novel instead of an episode of Supernatural. In this regard, the DeCandido novel felt closer to the series, fast-paced with a lot of jump cuts, with the Winchesters featured in almost every scene. This novel feels bigger and slower, more of a feature-length movie than a television episode. That’s not a harsh criticism if that’s what you’re looking for.

A part of me wonders if this didn’t start out as a standalone novel that Mariotte pulled from his trunk, dusted off, and then figured out a way to insert the Winchesters into the story. I mean, Supernatural doesn’t own the idea of witch curses and killer ghosts. Take the Winchesters out of the story, and you have a novel with the town sheriff and the widowed ranch owner as protagonists, with some homages to Jaws in the character of the mayor who doesn’t want to stop a shopping mall from opening just because of a cyclical curse that kills a lot of people.

In the end, the body count in this novel is a high one, and there are some pretty gruesome scenes. There is one scene that I would like to see in the series, but I doubt it could be pulled off convincingly. Dean and a crazy-old-prospector type are surrounded, and eventually attacked, by an army of wild animals—bears, wolves, coyotes, spiders, snakes, birds . . . you name it. The scene in which all of those eyes are watching the characters is a genuinely creepy and effective one. Some of the action setpieces in the story don’t work quite as well.

The Grand Canyon setting of the book is described very well. Mariotte writes visually, and his settings, in my mind’s-eye, look nothing like Vancouver, British Columbia. Except for the interior mall scenes, or the widow-trapped-by-ghost-wolf-inside-her-house scenes, this is a very outdoorsy story. I think Mariotte excels in those scenes as well.

However, I preferred the urban Bronx setting of the DeCandido novel. I don’t like to camp out either, so I admit to being biased.

I guess the bottom line is whether or not I recommend this novel. If you’re a fan of the CW series, you’ll find things to enjoy here, I guarantee. For me, it wasn’t as quick and pleasurable a read as the first book, and neither actually felt like the series I’ve watched to-date. That being said, if you’re a completist, as I am, you’ll read this book, too.

Firewater’s Second-Media-Tie-In-Novel-in-a-Series Report Card: B

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That’s a solid passing grade. You should keep in mind that I rarely hand out A’s and usually avoid wasting my time writing about anything below a C. This one will scratch an itch but won’t cure your eczema.

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