This is the third media tie-in novel for the television series Supernatural that I’ve read, and the second one written by DeCandido. He wrote the first in the series: Supernatural: Nevermore. I gave that one a respectable grade in a review you can read here.
I look for certain things in a media tie-in. The characters have to feel like the ones I know from the television series. The story being told within the book also has to feel like one I might see played out on the television screen, with a similar structure and cadence and the same sort of gags and in-jokes. In short, I want the author of the novel to seem to have at least a nodding acquaintance with the source material. Even better, I’d prefer the author to be a fan, although that’s not ultimately necessary if the story is engaging and well-told.
I’ve read media tie-ins from other franchises that did not feel like what I’ve watched on the screen. I’m not naming names here, but there have been countless “bad” media tie-ins in the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises alone. And, plenty of “good” ones as well. I’ll admit that I’ve set the bar fairly low for these novels. I demand to be entertained, and I expect the author to be familiar enough with the established world to avoid ruining the fictive dream for me. I don’t expect an enduring literary work when I pick up a media tie-in. I expect to read it, have a good time, and then probably forget it, or most of it.
I occasionally think about the Richard Adams novel Watership Down, even more than forty years after I read it. But, I couldn’t even tell you the plot of Carmen Carter’s Star Trek: The Next Generation tie-in The Children of Hamlin, even though I remember reading the novel in the 1990s.
Of course, the same thing could be said of many individual television episodes. Certain episodes are memorable, important, maybe one-in-five on a good series. The rest are average or less-than, maybe entertaining to a point, but almost instantly forgettable. Lest you think I’m calling media tie-in novels disposable trash, I’ll disabuse you of that notion now. I’m comparing their overall quality to that of the television series they are based upon. Most of the Supernatural episodes are at least okay, and a few are great. But, an “okay” episode is better than those of some other series I’ve watched.
The bottom line for both book and television series remains the same. Have I been entertained? And, has the writer convinced me that the characters in the novels are the same ones I’ve been watching on television?
Keith R.A. DeCandido has delivered on both of these requirements with Supernatural: Bone Key.
I liked this novel more than I did the first two novels in the series, which includes DeCandido’s previous effort. It helps that the novel is set during Season 3 of the series, when the characters themselves were on more sure footing than they were during the first two seasons. Plus, we get Bobby Singer as a character. I’ve always thought that the episodes with Bobby in them were usually better. He keeps the Winchester brothers grounded and provides somewhat of a father-figure.
In DeCandido’s Nevermore, the brothers never felt quite right to me, but that was true to the series as well. It was set during Season 2, and the actors hadn’t quite yet nailed down their characters yet.
One thing that doesn’t feel true to the series in this novel is the setting. No matter how they might try, the creative forces behind the television series couldn’t get Vancouver to look like Key West, Florida, where this story takes place. DeCandido is obviously familiar with the island. I am, too, although I haven’t been as many times as the author has. The setting feels authentic to me, if a bit more exotic than our usual Midwestern towns.
The bars feel right. Plus, we get to see a few of the sights, such as Hemingway’s house, Harry Truman’s Little White House, even the buoy-shaped marker at the Southernmost Point. There’s some neat ghosts haunting the island, including Hemingway and Truman, plus a wrecker sea captain and a honest-to-Chuck (Shurley, not Chucky) haunted doll. The main enemy in this is a superpowered ghost powered by the indigenous tribe of the island, seeking revenge against the foreign invaders whose diseases decimated their population. Plus we get a pair of demons enjoying their time on the island after being paroled from Hell by the Winchesters.
There’s a lot in this book that feels more like the television series than either of the previous novels did. Witch’s Canyon felt a lot like a different book into which the Winchester brothers were awkwardly inserted. I could see this novel as a better-than-average episode of the television series itself. In the Supernatural timeline, it’s set just six months before Dean is scheduled to go to Hell. All of the episodes in that season seemed to benefit from the ticking clock, and this novel does as well.
This hearkens back to a simpler time, when everything was about bros, hot women, beer and salting and burning the bones of active ghosts. No Castiel. No angels of any kind, yet. No Crowley. No Rowena or Jack or Chuck. Everything in the overarching saga of the Winchester brothers was on the cusp of change, and it was a good time. Getting away to Key West for an adventure was a nice change of pace.
The next novel in the series,Supernatural: Heart of the Dragon, was also written by DeCandido, published in 2010. It seems to have been his last of the series, which was up to #17 as of last year. I plan to read that one as well because I already own it. I’m not sure if I will continue forward afterward, however. I’ve managed to nearly burn myself out on Supernatural during this past year, watching five episodes a week and tearing my way through fourteen seasons until I caught up to the current, final season. The last leg of Season 15 has been postponed due to the coronavirus and may not return until the fall. We’ll see how I feel about the novels after I see the end of the story.
Sure, I recommend this novel. In fact, I still remember a lot about it at the moment.
Firewater’s Sammy’s-Not-Dying-Not-on-My-Watch Report Card: A-
Carry on, my wayward sons.