Building with the Architect of Aeons

What’s there to say, really?  It’s the 4th book in a series.  If you’ve started it and enjoy it, nothing I can say will get you to stop.  If you hated it and stopped reading, what can I say that will get you to pick it up?

Ok there’s one possibility.  Previously I had complained about not getting to know the villain enough in this saga.  Well this time we get full on villain in the spotlight, even see some things from his perspective.  So if that was bothering you, fear not such has been addressed now.

Otherwise… yeah it is the saga continued.  Keep reading it.  If your a college bound kid looking to bone up on your skills for the SAT, then get this book and a dictionary!  (It could also be a drinking game with some nerdy friends where y’all play, “is it a real word or one made up.”)

Oh and if you were one of those who disliked the movie Independence Day (or similar alien invasion stories), then you definitely owe it to yourself to get to this book.  Because this is when we finally get to watch the Alien vs Human battle royale and there are NONE of the usual tropes here.  In fact one particular moment in this exact book is a straight repudiation of ID4.

(more in depth spoiler discussions below the fold)

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Long reviews of some short stories

Well my big bang challenge fic finally posted and episode 5 is off to one of my editors. (note: if you’re also one of my editors and you’re wondering why you didn’t get 105, don’t worry, it’s actually not even to the point of “rough draft” at the moment so we’re kind of doing some fixing before I bother the rest of you – trust me, nobody should read what it is at the moment)

So I got to read a lot of short stories recently.  Most of them by John C Wright.

Spoiler free:

Awake in the Night Lands – Setting that makes Lovecraft look like Holiday World theme park.  Recommended for those with sturdy constitutions, this isn’t for the light sleeper.  Just make sure you read every story in a single sitting.

Opera Vita Aeterna – Not bad.  Easiest way to sum up: did you ever see the movie the Book of Eli?  However you felt about that movie is going to be a good indicator of how you’ll feel about this story.  Apparently it’s part of a larger literary setting which may affect your enjoyment.  If you don’t care much for medieval style fantasy, avoid.  If you love that style fantasy but feel it’s played out and overly cliche, you may want to give this a try.

City Beyond Time – Unless you really, REALLY hate time travel in stories, get this, read it.

One Bright Star to Guide Them – A fun tale.  VERY much recommended for fans of CS Lewis.

Spoiler talk will resume below.

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Pleading before the Judge of Ages

Before I say anything else, I have a plea just in case the author reads this review:

Please, PLEASE write a prequel of some kind.  It doesn’t have to be long, a novella will do nicely, but give us some insight into the time Meany & Blackie (yes I’m bad with names, ESPECIALLY the names in this series so I’m shortening them all) spent together training, maybe even a bit right before the mutiny.  I’ll explain why further down but even if you don’t read that, just know that such a thin tie-in would cover over so many problems with this series.

So after much anticipation (by both fans), John C Wright finally released the Judge of Ages, the 3rd book in his current novel series.  I have to admit that this series is genius as it covers SO much, with SO many possible threads and people that the entire thing could be milked for generations by the author and loyal fanfic writers.  Prequels and sequels and midquels… the sky really is the limit for all that could be written related to the world of this story, and it is to the author’s credit we end up wanting to see these other tales almost as much as we want to see the next book in the series.

Now if you read my review of the previous book you’ll know I was not thrilled with the ending.  Thankfully I can say today that all is forgiven.  While this book also ends on a cliffhanger, it ends on a proper cliffhanger, one you can at least endure while waiting for book 4.  So now I can say without reservation: go pick up book 2, AND #3 at the same time – because you WILL need to read them back to back.  They aren’t just parts of the same overall story, but two halves of one part of the overall story.  Perhaps someday we’ll see both printed together in a form massive enough to club zombies with but until then, you’ll just have to make do with manual joining.

So what is this book about?  Go click on the link above and read the review of the previous book.  This book is all about tying up the threads and concluding book 2. Though I will warn that large sections of the book are taken up by extensive descriptors of the surroundings and people.  Yes, the previous two had those as well but it can get frustrating at times in this one more so as you long to know what the next move is between the players of the drama only to feel like everything has been put on pause so they can paint the scene.  Of course the narrative needs to paint the scene, but like I said, it can feel annoying.  In fact, at times I think the narrative may work a lot better in a more visual medium, although some of the scenes mean we’ll probably never see Hollywood put it on TV or movie until long after we’re dead.  I would like to see it in comic book form.  Heck give the artist a two page spread to display some of the massive visuals demanded (and they would warrant a 2-page spread) and you could probably condense each of these novels into a standard trade paperback.  Of course I’ll admit that part of this wish as selfish as my mind’s eye kept blinking to the point I lost threads of the story I knew I shouldn’t have, and I think a comic would aid weaker readers like myself.

All in all I’d rank it about a… 3.5 out of 5 on its own, with a 4-5 for both books together as a whole.  Any complaints will involve heavy spoilers so those will be below the book image.  As always, you can click the image to get yourself a copy of it.  More than a few points in the story are so awesome, your mind’s eye will melt from the image of it, it’s definitely worth the price of admissions.




There is a debate going out there on the web in some places between “blue” and “pink” scifi/fantasy.  Don’t worry about searching for details on this, I’ll save you the trouble: it’s pretty much an argument between “plot” stories and “character” stories.  It’s gotten the “blue/pink” labels because, as so often in life, a lot of it breaks down along gendered lines.  The masculine has a tendency to forgive character problems if the plot of a story is sufficiently awesome.  The feminine has a tendency to forgive plot problems if the characters of a story are sufficiently compelling.  Of course that’s just the way to bet, as always in life, all generalizations are false (including this one) so it’s easy to find plots awesome enough to wow even girls, or characters so magnetic even boys like watching them.  There’s nothing wrong with having a preference one way or another and indeed we see that often the very best of the genre blend the “blue” and “pink” together in idealized balance.  But let me stress again: there’s nothing wrong with you preferring one style or the other, and there’s nothing wrong with other people preferring the converse style.  Let the muses rain down all styles from the authors’ pens and let us each enjoy that which pleases our taste.

Now this book series of Mr Wright’s is a heavily blue one (so far) with flashes of pink throughout, but none more so than in the 2nd & 3rd book.  See, I would call John’s Chaos Children trilogy to be, in my taste, the most perfect blend of plot & character in a genre story I’ve seen in a long, long time.  The plot was mind breaking while the characters sucked you in and made you love them.  This book had two major flaws in both styles.

Well actually I’ll admit that the flaw in plot could very well be with me and I’ll need to go back and examine the story closer to confirm, but at the end, it was revealed that a great meteor strike on the earth had been a plan of the Swans to blind both Blackie and Meany.  However in book 2 it seemed that the meteor falling was the key for Meany to invent the virus that ends up creating the Swans in the first place.  So without the Swans, there’s no meteor, but without the meteor, there’s no Swans and… like I said, it could be a fault of mine. UPDATE: Ok, I found where it all linked together.  Of course given that everything about this world is told in non-linear fashion, involving things of murky distinction like generations and species, your brain will get a workout trying to put everything together.  That’s why some of us are working on wiki.

Now character wise… in general this isn’t a problem for the author and indeed many of the characters will stick in your mind.  I love Mickey the Witch as he utilizes the trope I’m so fond of: “Right but for the Wrong Reasons” while the “Old Man” is probably my favorite of the sidekicks and his era the one I’m most interested in seeing.  He’s the one I kind of most want to see journey with Meany & Blackie.  But there are other characters, especially the “bookend” ones (those from the earliest and latest periods of history – except for Sir Guy & the Giant) which you’ll find yourself forgetting even though they end up being as important as anyone else.  Still, the biggest problem of the story remains: the antagonist.

See the entire series (except for one very notable exception) is written in third-person limited: from Meany’s perspective.  Nothing wrong with that, it works great for countless stories.  The slight catch is that Meany has just a bit of unreliable narrator to him.  In his case, he is very much a passionate man who never does anything half-measure, including his esteem or loathing of people.  In general this isn’t a bad thing as we see the other characters about and so can contrast what they are really like against Meany’s views of them (it’s even one of the great pleasures of reading).  The EXCEPTION to this is, of course, the antagonist, Blackie.  He is almost never on screen which means the ONLY knowledge we ever have of him is from the viewpoint character’s usual exaggeration.  While we can usually figure out how much salt to add to Meany’s claims from the surroundings, in this case we have no real frame of reference.  For instance in several places Meany calls Blackie wicked and pure evil etc.  On the one hand, we see Blackie demonstrate some sense of honor and faith and friendship and fidelity and some other positive traits which one can never imagine the likes of Darth Vader or the Joker demonstrating.  On the other hand, Blackie really does things through the story that make Hitler look like a jaywalker.  So the story ends up with the see-saw sensation of Meany’s words being understatements then exaggerations.  It also has the misfortune of a few places feeling like they’re telling us more than showing us things we need to be shown.  The worst example is during the jellyfish scene, where Blackie has his enemy dead to rights, then stops.  It feels like an effort by the author to save the protagonist, although there’s a nagging sensation that it isn’t and should be in character for the villain.  But without seeing more about the villain the reader feels like they’re being lied to.

(another example would be when it’s revealed that they tried baiting Meany with a clone of his wife.  it’s in character for Meany to reject it, but why would Blackie?  especially given his history with Rania and the things we see him capable of, we don’t have a sense that he would really be that picky over a copy.  i could still see him continuing to fight Meany because of pride and grudges, but not really being that scrupulous about his woman.)

This is why I say a small prequel, showing us Meany & Blackie training together and becoming friends, giving us a bit more insight and actually showing us the forging of the bonds of their friendship would greatly strengthen this series.  Then again with the promised cliffhanger, we might end up with a lot of on screen time with Blackie in the next book.  I can only hope so as, like so many movies, the series to this point rests largely on the back of its villain, and the villain is currently the weakest character of them all.

Cure for Hellatus – Roads not Taken

For you youngin’s out there, way in the days before videogames became something you could enjoy for free on your phone, we had to find substitutes for a lot of now common genres.  FPS?  You had to get your friends and some lazer-tag guns, BB guns, or rocks and run around in the yard.  RPGs?  Hide something of your smaller sibling’s and send them on fetch quests.  Make the object anime related if you were hungering for Japanese style.  RTS?  Attempt to train ants until you grow too frustrated and fry them with a magnifying glass (thus transitioning from Starcraft to Sim City).  However if you wanted an old school adventure game, you had to read.  Yes back in the ancient days of papyrus we kids had what was called “adventure books”.  They would tell a story (or dozen) where you, the reader would make choices, then turn to spots in the book based upon said choices.  i.e. “The monster approaches.  –If you want to shoot it, turn to page 93.  –If you want to run away, turn to page 102.”  Of course quite a few of these had no right answer with all paths leading to death, thus helping children grasp the futility and oblivion that is life.  The simplicity of these books certainly explains why text adventures were some of the earliest video games since they were little more than direct transcriptions of those book styles.

Heh… Supernatural would make a good adventure game, wouldn’t it?  They could even have some excuse for the really insane puzzles (since mystical things don’t have to always obey logic) though I’d like to see this genre adopt a multi-layered style of solving.  Perhaps where you could make it through the entire game using simple solutions & common sense for a basic ending, but then figuring out really esoteric solutions allows one to unlock crazier endings… (seems like a perfect fit for Misha Collins doesn’t it?)

Where was I?

Oh right!  So until we get that SPN:Adventures game, we have Roads not Taken, a choose your own adventure book set with our beloved Sam & Dean.  As you can guess, the show fits in quite well with this style and genre.  It is an entertaining bit of interactive fiction, and thin enough you could probably get through one “read-through” in an afternoon (especially if you choose wrong and get S&D killed).  Fascinated by how this book ended up coming about, I reached out to the author who consented to an interview.

Winchester Family Business: Are you a big fan of Supernatural?

Tim Waggoner: I’ve been watching Supernatural since the first episode aired, and I’ve really enjoyed it. As much as I love all the monster-hunting, the brothers’ relationship – and their relationship with other characters like Castiel, Bobby, etc. – is what I love the most.

WFB: Which one is your favorite season?

TW: That’s a hard question to answer. Season Five’s fight to prevent the Apocalypse might be my favorite season arc, while Season 7’s rise of Castiel as the new God was a great storyline. I also enjoyed watching Bobby fight against becoming a vengeful ghost in that season.

WFB: So which is your favorite episode?

TW: There are so many I like! “The French Mistake,” where Balthazar sends the brothers into our world, where they’re only characters in a TV show was a lot of metafictional fun.

WFB: Yeah that and The Real Ghostbusters (where they go to the convention) are two of my favorite metafictional stories.  So who is your favorite non Winchester or Castiel character?

TW: Jim Beaver’s portrayal of Bobby is awesome, and I love Mark Sheppard’s Crowley. Felicia Day’s Charlie is a wonderful counterpoint to the brothers, and Julian Richings is the best Death ever! Ty Olsson’s Benny was a great character, and I wish the show would bring him back.

WFB: Other than SPN, do you enjoy any other intellectual properties?

TW: Lots! I don’t have as much time to watch TV as I used to when I was younger. Kolchak the Nightstalker was my favorite dark fantasy/horror series when I was growing up. I love both the British and American versions of Being Human. I enjoy Grimm and Sleepy Hollow as well. And like a lot of viewers, I have a love/hate relationship with The Walking Dead. For science fiction, I’ve enjoyed every iteration of Star Trek, as well as Stargate: SG1 and Stargate: Atlantis. I enjoyed Fringe a lot, too. But my favorite SF series of all time is Doctor Who. I was a big fan of comics growing up, but I don’t have much time to read them today. I try to keep up with comics news online, though.

WFB: I think you’ll find similar choices among a lot of our readers.  What’s your favorite intellectual property to write a tie-in book for besides SPN?

TW: I wrote a Nightmare on Elm Street tie-in some years back called Protege. That was a lot of fun. I got to write a Doctor Who story for an anthology called Destination Prague, which was both an honor and a treat. I’m doing a Grimm tie-in right now called The Killing Time, and I’m having a blast writing it!

WFB: Which tie-in book are you most proud of?

TW: It’s hard to pick just one. But if I had to, I might say my novel Defender: Hyperswarm, based on the Defender video game. The publisher wanted a sequel to the video game, and I had to create not only the storyline, but I had to create a solar-system-wide civilization, as well as create why and how the evil aliens – the Manti – can live in hyperspace. I also had to come up with backgrounds for all the characters in the video game, especially the hero, Mei Kyoto. It was also the first SF adventure I’d ever written, so it took me way outside my comfort zone. It was a lot of work, but a hell of a lot of fun.

WFB: Are there any intellectual properties you’re not currently writing for that you would like to?

TW: Kolchak the Nightstalker! But only to satisfy the eternal ten-year-old inside me. I’d love to do more Doctor Who, but it’s extremely rare that non-Brits get to write Who tie-ins. I’d love to a do a Sleepy Hollow novel. After my Nightmare on Elm Street novel, I pitched the publisher a Jason X novel where scientists send Jason X back in time to battle earlier versions of himself. Unfortunately, the publisher stopped publishing that line of tie-ins, so I never got to write that book. Too bad, because it would’ve been a ton of fun to do.

WFB: Funny, because I know Kripke listed Kolchak as an inspiration for SPN.  Maybe you could do a meta, semi-crossover book where the boys run into an old hunter nicknamed the Nightstalker…  Anyway, which of your original works are you most proud of?

TW: Again, a hard question to answer. Maybe my novel The Harmony Society, because it was the first time I wrote a book that was truly a product of my deepest imagination – a book no one but me could write. My forthcoming novel The Way of All Flesh is my take on the zombie story – featuring a zombie who doesn’t know he’s a zombie, and a serial killer who resents the zombie plague for being a better “murderer” than he ever could. I had a lot of fun playing with the zombie apocalypse scenario and trying to put my own unique spin on it. Advance reviews have been good, but I can’t wait to see what readers think!

WFB: That sounds interesting.  Any chance you might end up writing a SPN:Tribes tie-in?

TW: Anything’s possible! If I find out a publisher is starting to bring out Tribes tie-ins, I’ll start bugging them to let me write one.

WFB: Moving on to the book itself; it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a choose-your-own-adventure book, much less one that tied into an intellectual property. How did this idea come about? Was it your own or did the company offer the job and you volunteered?

TW: Eclipse Editions had already contracted a pair of authors to write a Supernatural interactive novel, but for whatever reasons, those authors bowed out. The person at the WB who oversees tie-ins thought I did a good job on my previous Supernatural book, Carved in Flesh, so he suggested me to Insight as a replacement. I wrote an outline, submitted it, got approved, and wrote the book.

WFB: I enjoyed and found it fascinating how you took the gimmick of choose-your-own-adventure and wove it into the story structure and plot itself. How did you come up with that? Did you have it in mind from the beginning or while you started work on the project?

TW: Insight wanted three or four separate stories featuring the Winchesters, but I decided to make those stories tie together into a novel before I began drafting the novel. It just seemed like a natural approach, since the series has episodes that tie in to an overall arc for a particular season. I also thought readers might not realize at first that the stories are connected, so it would be fun for them to notice the connections as they progress through the book.

WFB: Of course your book won a lot of goodwill from me by the first story taking place in Kentucky (where I was born & raised). How do you select the locations for this or your other SPN novel? Are darts or a ouija board involved?

TW: I live in Southwestern Ohio, so I often set stories in and around my part of the state. Since I knew I’d have the Winchesters end up in Ohio in the final story in The Roads Not Taken, I picked states contiguous to Ohio as settings for the other stories.

WFB: Did you have any input on Zachary Baldus’ illustrations? Which one was your favorite?

TW: I had no input whatsoever on the illustrations, but I thought Zachary did a great job. My favorite is his illustration of the two T-shirts the brothers put on at the end of the first story, “Here, Kitty, Kitty.” I included the shirt with “Bikini Inspector” on it because the publisher released a generic summary of the novel on Amazon before I’d written it, and the summary said readers could help the brothers choose their cover stories, including pretending to be a bikini inspector. A friend of mine read the summary, but when I told him it had nothing to do with my novel, he joked that he was disappointed that neither of the brothers would get to be a bikini inspector. So I put those T-shirts in for him, and I thought it was hilarious when Zachary decided to illustrate them.

WFB: I would like to see the costume department put those shirts on the boys in one scene just as a friendly nod to the book.  So far both of your stories are appropriately epic – covering schemes and scenes that are all but impossible for anyone to make on a genre show budget. But say the show picks you to be a writer for an episode, and they let you choose. What would you pick? Monster of the Week or arc episode? Given the confines of budget and shooting schedules, give us a quick idea of the episode you’d write.

TW: Monster of the Week would be fun, since I could create my own monster or bring in some monster from folklore that Sam and Dean haven’t dealt with yet. I like to play with genre conventions and do something different and unexpected, like having an angel and a demon who are in love and work together, or vampires who become allergic to human blood and are kidnapping doctors and scientists in order to force them to find a cure. I might do something like that.

After that we got into spoiler discussions, which I actually advise against reading as uncovering a lot of the secrets in the story is a bit part of the fun.  I’d rank it objectively at about a…

out of 5.  Though the execution and cleverness of some of the twists and turns makes it for me, personally, a 5 out of 5.  If you’re looking for lots of feels and brotherly drama… take a shell or two off (as some of the strongest feels come from bad choices in the book).  No really, if you can’t even stand the hypothetical mishap happening to the boys, then you might need to avoid this as some of the bad choices might break you.  If, however, you’re looking to let some of the drama slide and just have a good old-fashioned adventure, I highly recommend this.

Now if we can just get that Supernatural adventure game…

(cross posted @





WFB: This book ended on a cliffhanger. Can you clue us in on whether there will be any followup?

TW: I didn’t mean for it to end on a cliffhanger. I do usually leave it open whether or not the “bad guy” or evil force in a novel might return to create further mischief, so maybe that’s what you’re referring to. As far as I know, there’s not going to be any follow-up.

WFB: Ah, well when the bad guy escaped with his pet project in tow (a project that could easily be half a season in opposing), I wondered if we might see whether the creature is released or not.

TW: I figure the bad guy will hold onto his new creature in case he needs to use it again. He probably will use it, since he went to all the trouble of creating it in the first place!

WFB: Now I’ve noticed that between this & “Carved in Flesh” you seem to have a preference for the demigod type of monster in SPN.  What draws you to this monster?

TW: That’s more of a coincidence, really. I came up with those ideas almost two years apart. At first, I didn’t want to use a god in The Roads Not Taken, but the idea I had worked so well for the plot that I just had to use it. But since gods have more power, they can create bigger, more complex problems that work better in a novel. Besides, Sam and Dean are badasses! They need a major threat to give them any kind of a challenge, right?

WFB: No argument here.  You also invent a new monster in this story. Did you have a name in mind for it? (given that “jefferson starships” is taken?)

TW: I hadn’t really thought of a name for the monster. I thought of it more as a force of nature than something with a conscious identity. If “Predator” wasn’t already taken, that would work well. Some variation on “Hunter,” maybe, to serve as a counterpoint to Sam and Dean’s profession.

WFB: Given a recent addition to nerd culture, perhaps we could call it a “jaeger“? 😉

TW: That name will work great, just as long as Guillermo Del Toro doesn’t sue me!

WFB: Anything else you want to add?

TW: Thanks so much for the interview! It was a lot of fun!

WFB: Thanks for your time, Tim.

Best & Worst SPN books

Well it’s that time of year again.  The long winter weeks suffering with family until our beloved show returns.  Sure we could pop in the discs or pull down the old episodes on netflix but what if you’re jonsing for something new?  Enter the novel run: an episode packed into a processed wood pulp form!  Of course I’ve already reviewed all the books and haven’t yet gotten a copy of The Roads Not Taken but I also know I’ve picked up a few new readers since joining the family business so with 6 books now in both the Kripke and post-Kripke eras, I thought it would be a good time to rank the books.  Of course I won’t discourage anyone from buying even the “worst” books on the list, but I also know money can be tight this time of year so think of it as a buying aid in case you can only afford one or two. (and if you do purchase, feel free to do so through the links so the family business or myself can get a bit of change to fund our addictions – to the show)  Also, let me warn you about something: the back covers of the books (the ones that are supposed to tantalize you into buying them), they either outright LIE on a few, or spoil things that shouldn’t be.  So I highly advise you do NOT read the back covers or plot summaries of these.

Also a note on judging.  Each book will be ranked according to:

  1. General quality. (how well written)
  2. Canon fidelity. (how much it violates from the show)
  3. Spirit fidelity. (how much it feels like the show)

So let’s start with:

the Kripke Years

If you were to rank the books on a bell curve, these six would be the two ends of it.  The worst books and the best ones.

#6. The Unholy Cause – I’ll be honest, I wanted to like this book and there are some fascinating moments in it, but at the end of the day, it’s just a mess.  There’s a way you can tie a rope into a knot to create demons?  Or do you summon demons with it?  How is Hell not recruiting Boy Scouts to be their shock troops if that was the case?  Normally I’d be worried about spoilers but since I couldn’t tell you what happened in this book now (much less who or what they defeat in it), I don’t think I can.  If you do read this or have read it and you figure out what’s going on, please let us know in the comments.  Maybe I should give it a second chance and reread it but… I kind of dread that.  It was probably a sign that while every other book has a specific mention of where it is (between X & Y episode) this one did not.

#5. Witch’s Canyon – Originally this one had a major issue with canon as it involved the boys having an adventure in the Grand Canyon (which Dean later said – after this book is supposed to take place – that he never visited) but after the show itself broke that bit of canon, this violation is greatly lessened.  It’s not bad in quality and some of the characters are good, but it does have a problem with the spirit of the show.  Some aspects of what happened I still couldn’t tell you why they did.  There’s a ghost wolf that has some connection to it all but only bothers one person for some reason… and you can apparently shoot ghosts if you just tweak the bullet a bit… It feels less like SPN and more like someone took a story set in a similar style universe (Buffy, Sleepy Hollow, etc) and slapped the names of Sam & Dean into it.

#4. Nevermore – Keith R. A. DeCandido wrote half the books that fill this area and all 3 were pretty darn good in quality and with canon + spirit.  So fair warning you’re going to see a lot of him now.  This was the first book of the show released and surprisingly still holds up.  As of all the novels currently, this can still fit smoothly into the canon of the show with no stretches or tweaks to anything else.  However given that and it is the first, this book can end up a bit dull at times.  It’s a monster of the week book where some reader may find the monster a clever twist, and some may be angry or find it a letdown.

#3. Bone Key – DeCandido’s 2nd book, while it is a bit shakier on canon grounds but has a clever idea for a monster and an entertaining solution.  This is one of the books that really takes advantage of the novel format that the show cannot: new locations and awesome spectacle.  It’s this pushing the envelope of what the show could be (were money no object) that drags this one just above the previous entry.

#2. War of the Sons – I’ll be honest up front: the ending of this novel is a mess.  Character motivations end up going in random directions and even the solution shouldn’t work by lines established earlier in the book (yes, the book ends up violating its own canon).  How well it fits into the wider SPN lore is… debatable.  It doesn’t outright contradict anything but trying to fit it into what we know can get a bit challenging at times.  So with all these flaws why am I placing this book at the #2 slot?  Because EVERYTHING else in it way covers over those flaws.  I mean, 2 words: Time Travel.  And they don’t overplay it or risk messing things up like in some SPN TT stories.  No this has less to do with the past of the boys and more just putting them in a new setting for adventures.  The mcguffin and challenge in this book is very clever and makes a lot of sense.  Finally, the book’s just funny at times.  Flaws?  Sure, but the ideas and pure spectacle on display so make up for them.  Highly recommended.

#1. Heart of the Dragon – And with half this list taken up by him, it’s only natural Keith R. A. DeCandido winds up earning the #1 spot.  Why?  Because if there’s any flaw to this book, it’s that there’s not enough of it.  The story could have easily been split up into a modest trilogy.  The premise is simple, yet beautiful in its simplicity: what if there was a hunt that stretched across all 3 generations of hunters?  From grandpa Campbell, to John, to Sam & Dean.  Even better, it’s only a tangent to the wider myth arc.  Meaning that this challenge they face has little to do with Lucifer or Micheal, it’s really just a monster of the week stretched out over generations.  It ends up working really well and makes you wish we could see more threads connecting the lines of ancestors and decedents that are woven not because of some plot by heaven or hell, but just because of who these people are and what they do.  Is it perfect?  No, I would have love to seen more from John’s segment of the adventure, but even novels have time limits.  Regardless, for being brilliant in its simplicity, and for leaving us wanting more, this SPN novel rightfully earns it’s #1 pick of the Kripke era.

Post Kripke

Remember how I brought up a bell curve above?  This would be the middle of it.  Covering the post-Kripke years of the show (so far), these six novels are not as bad as the worst above, but not quite as great as the best, either.  This list was a lot harder to rank and ask me again tomorrow, I’ll probably reorder it again.  I’ll also admit that this is a lot more subject to personal taste so feel free to disagree with me here. 😉

#6. One Year Gone – The book covering the “year” between S5 and S6, why does this end up at the bottom?  First, it doesn’t cover the whole year, but just one incident that occurs during it, so it ends up explaining some things, but not everything.  Second, half of the book is dedicated (obviously) to the point of view of Soulless Sam who is just a drag on the narrative.  It really brings home how they needed to utilize Grandpa more to fill in the emotional gaps in the story that Sam’s condition opened up.  Except they don’t, so the book also reminds you of all they wasted in S6.  Finally, what really pushes this to the bottom (through no real fault of the author) is that later seasons have completely broken the canon of this book.  If you want to know how, just read the sentence pair I quoted on the book’s wiki page.  In summary, the problems with season 6 in general infect this book too much for it to rise above last place.  Which is a shame, had a lot of the plot and structure been placed elsewhere in canon, it might have worked really well.

#5. Night Terror – John Passarella wrote this and another book book in this era.  Like the show, if you read a lot of these books you’ll realize that the authors have certain tendencies just like script writers and directors.  Some may emphasize the mystery of a hunt, while others the growing horror.  Mr Passarella is part of the group that likes the emphasize the gore. (how do you do that in a book? he can)  If you like that aspect of SPN, then you’ll definitely like this book.  The other big problem with this book (and something these shows have to be careful of) is that the monster in it is almost too powerful and too easily summoned to the point that it seems worse than Satan.  It’s not the boys winning that I object to, but that their victory is so close, one wonders how this thing didn’t take over the world in centuries past.  So the strain on credibility and the gore push this down to #5 for me, but if you like the bloodier episodes of SPN, then move it up two slots on your buying choices.

#4. Fresh Meat – This one is… a lot of fun (and not just because I have an appreciation for the outdoors) and really hard to describe without spoilers.  What’s the downsides to this one?  First, sometimes the action gets kind of nebulous, meaning either the setting seems to change at will or some things happen which don’t make sense.  For example, they utilize a whip at one point in the story that, by my estimation, has to be anywhere from twenty to fifty feet long.  Yet it’s described as being pulled out of a pocket.  Hint: rope that long is going to get heavy and cumbersome.  Second, the book repeatedly describes vampires as having silver eyes.  Which they don’t in SPN canon.  So while the book has only two faults, it’s two faults repeatedly used throughout pushing this one down to number 4.

#3. Coyote’s Kiss – This story… like every other novel on this list this story introduces us to new characters to adventure with Sam and Dean so we might be in suspense on whether those characters survive since we know S&D have to.  It’s a traditional technique in these “licensed fanfic” tales and an expected and acceptable one.  After all it’s not like the boys can die or the world be destroyed since we see both in the episode following the book!  But what’s the biggest danger to fanfics licensed or not?  Mary. Sue.  This book introduces us to a female hunter.  Is she a Mary Sue?  Oh hell yeah, to argue otherwise is to argue against the ocean being wet.  Worse (or better, depending on your perspective) she’s a Mary Sue that’s all over Dean (so hardcore Destial fans beware).  Why then did I put this book so high on the list when it sounds like it should be lower?  Well they do go for broke on the threat and climax, giving us a showdown that I don’t think even a movie screen could convey.  But, and this cannot be overstated, they actually found a use for Robo!Sam.  I mean a really clever, really useful purpose for Sam without a soul.  A use so good, it almost makes you feel like all the shenanigans with Sam in season 6 were worth it.  That… that is a feat worthy of heroic ballads right there.  That and the book also gave one of my favorite handwaves for why some things happen in the SPN verse the way they do.  For those curious but uninterested in the book, you can find out from the quote I put on the wiki page.

#2. Rite of Passage – John Passarella’s second SPN book ends up here in the number 2 spot for being… well just about perfect as a tie-in book.  The MotW in it is new and interesting while not quite having the overpowered problem of the opponent in Night Terrors.  He uses the medium of novelization to set up events and spectacles we never could have in another while the canon remains airtight.  Heck you even end up caring about a lot of the people the boys run into on this hunt and a few tears might even be pulled from your eyes.  There is still some gore in this one though I don’t think it’s as bad as his first book.  This is definitely one of the best examples of the purpose these tie-ins serve and I highly recommend it.

#1. Carved in Flesh – What makes this one number 1?  Take everything I said above and apply it here +1.  Suitably creepy moments, new characters that you actually care about, a MotW that you love to hate…  If you could only afford to get one SPN book, I’d still recommend you get Heart of the Dragon, but if you could afford two, THIS would be the next one I recommend.  The canon works and it really feels like an episode of the show.  Heck if you think that reading these books is pointless, give those two a try and see if they change your mind about getting a fix.

Well, that’s my totally scientific and not at all random rankings.  What’s yours?

(crossposted @

Cure for Hellatus – Carved in Flesh

(cross-posted @

As we fans near the final weeks leading up to the 9th season premiere, what can we fans do to deal with our withdraw?

Why pick up some extra “episodes” from Titan books!

“Carved in Flesh” covers a period of time during season 7.  If you really hated that season, don’t hold it against this novel.  There’s a few references to the events of that season (Sam’s insanity, Bobby’s death, Dick Roman) but they’re just asides that have no real impact on the plot.  With minor editing, this book could just as easily take place in season 1 or 2.

So what’s this book’s case?  Well… I don’t want to say because the mystery in this one is quite enjoyable.  Though I warn very strongly AGAINST reading the back or any other blurb as it spoils the first third of the mystery.

Canon wise there isn’t anything currently invalidating the book.  Though it does reveal something interesting about the boys’ past life and a foe they’ve fought before so it is one of the first books I’ve really wanted to be canon in awhile.

Entertaining, decent characters, good plot, I’d give this story…

Out of 5, four if I’m in the right mood.  I will warn any fan considering this novel: there are a few dangling plot threads left at the end.  It is done in a realistic manner that is germane to the plot (after all, in life we don’t always get the answers), and the threads are all related to secondary concerns.  However consider yourself warned if such a thing bothers you. (sometimes it does me, sometimes not, hence my wavering score)

Also?  This has (IMHO) the WORST death scene in the novels so far.  And by “worst” I mean “most nightmare inducing”.  Actually there’s 2 scenes both in this book that could contend for the title.



Every season the Winchesters face a demigod, so it was about time for them to deal with one in the “off-seasons”.  What separates this hunt from the other god-hunts is that this time we’re dealing with the age-old trope of an acolyte looking to bring their god to earth, and our heroes trying to stop them.  Which makes its appearance in season 7 somewhat ironic since that season kicked off in a similar manner.  With also a similar result.  And with a similar Lovecraftian feel.

Of course, this isn’t a novel series, so while the god is summoned, it is “trophied” by the end of the book.  The manner of said defeat is… another count against the score.  It’s not too big a plot hole (an explanation can be filled in without too much stretching) but it does come off very weird for the god to shrug off a bullet to the brain one scene, only to be stopped by a scalpel to the spine in the next scene.  Still, the process to summon the god is pretty creative (or if it’s a tribute to something besides the obvious, it’s too obscure for me to get) and I give the author full kudos for putting in something pretty new in there.

By far the strongest segments of the book are the flashbacks the bros have towards what some might call their first “joint” hunt.  It’s really effective even if a little “on the nose” in its relation to the main plot (but there is a plausible explanation for why it’s being brought up now) and while skirting the line of cheesiness, I have to admit their resolve at the end of the book to “finish” that old hunt did give me a manly tear.

Guest stars of the story are fairly memorable for a one-time appearance.  I especially felt sorry for the biochem-entrepenuer.  That’s what makes this book more like an episode than just about any other.  The boys still get the win, but it’s heartrending nonetheless.