31 August 2011

Review: Supernatural Tie-In Novel 'Heart of the Dragon'

I have never been a big fan of tie-in products. What a positive way to start a blog post by bringing everyone down with my personal view on the subject, right?! But having said, I do read tie-in novels, especially the Supernatural ones. Reading them and looking at the attractive covers help me to survive the painful hellatus.

Tie-in novels (not to be confused with fanfics) are written by professional novelists and they are usually based on an established TV series or movie. The point of tie-in novels is to give fans a fix. Buffy and Firefly Serenity have a very successful run in the tie-in products including novels and comics. Others such as Star Wars, SG1, SGA, The X-Files and Star Trek have loads of novels. Tie-in novels focus on stories we don't see on screen -- stories usually take place in between seasons and episodes or after a show/ movie is ended; story ideas are (supposed to be) in the spirit of the original TV series; and because it's a novel, you don't have to worry about booking in actors (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, I am looking at you!).

Tie-in novels are usually published after a season is ended, because obviously a tie-in novel can't give away any plot lines or spoilers while the current season is on air. For example, Supernatural: Heart of the Dragon was published in 2010, the story took place after season five's Changing Channels. I can only imagine how hard it is to write a tie-in novel. On one hand, writers have the freedom to create something with their own imagination, but on the other hand, they are limited. Although the actual TV episodes never reference the plots or any kind of details as mentioned in the tie-in novels, but the writers still can't reinvent the wheel or jeopardise the mytho of the show in any way.

To be honest, some of the Supernatural tie-in novels are good, but some are not. The one that I really enjoyed was War of the Sons. I think this is very very close to the actual mytho of the series. I actually want to see the story on the TV series. The story worked and it actually looked like the missing chapter. I think that's how a tie-in novel should be and this is what I expect from others -- a page-turning tie-in novel.

But we don't always get what we want.

The biggest problem is that sometimes details are not aligned with the original show. For example, Dean's eyes are green, not blue. Dean will NEVER let anyone to drive his car, except Sam. Under NO circumstance, Dean would let anyone to drive his car. In Coyote's Kiss, Sam was available to drive, but Dean let the lady friend to drive his car. It's so illegal! Dean in this story became a bit needy for women was a bit out of character. As if Dean would ask 'Can you stay?'! The overall continuity is there, but deep down you know that's not exactly the Dean and Sam you love on the TV screen. It's a strange feeling -- I know I am getting my Supernatural fix, but I know there is a disconnection there somewhere.

Heart of the Dragon

Heart of the Dragon was written by Keith DeCandido, who also wrote many Supernatural tie-in novels. It's an ok read, not as great as War of the Sons. Long time visitors know that I love the family element of the show -- I love watching John, Mary with Dean and Sam. To see them appear in one place (in this case, in one book) is a real treat. Although Grandpa Samuel was a bit 'mistreated' in season six of Supernatural, which was unfortunate, but the family theme and his character treatment in Heart of the Dragon are acceptable.

The story took place in 3 different timelines. We met the Campbells in 1969; the Winchesters in 1989; and Dean and Sam in 2009. It involved a story about the spirit of an ancient Samurai, the Heart of the Dragon, a weapon created a demon which would give team Lucifer the advantage in the apocalypse. I don't really care about the myth of this story, because my expectation wasn't high and because at time it was confusing. Thank you for thinking outside the square but mixing the Judeo-Christian-Samurai-ghost is a bit too fusion for me on this occasion.

What this novel did right was the treatment of the Campbells. This is how they should be written. I think Grandpa especially should have been written with a bit more dignity. We love him the first time we met him in In the Beginning, and I just think we should have a good memory of him as a good tough guy, rather than a douche who was afraid to stand up.

We have never seen Deanna as BA. In the Heart of the Dragon, we had a glimpse of her in action. Deanna was someone we don't know too much about. Would Samuel act differently if Deanna was also resurrected? Was she the one keeping him 'human' and sane all these years? The husband and wife team (as a hunter couple or not) never really worked on the show -- one always survived without another. Something bad always happened to the other half, like John and Mary; Bobby and Karen; season three's Isaac and Tamara; Dean and Lisa; Sam and Jess (and Madison); Ellen and William Harvelle. But in Heart of the Dragon, DeCandido managed to give us the glimpse of Samuel and Deanna as the hunter couple along with their only child, Mary, who was 15 year old in this novel. It was certainly a rare opportunity to see them in action as a family.

Heart of the Dragon reiterates Mary's desire to be a normal person, free from hunting. We now know Mary and John already knew each other when Mary was 15. The teenage-y John was not heavily featured in the Campbells timeline in this story, but he was there and Samuel didn't like him even back then because he was too normal. But I like that John kid!

We then saw John Winchester 20 years later with young Dean and Sam, and Uncle Bobby (assuming he had more hair). That part of the story reminded me so much of Something Wicked. In fact, the 'feel' of the story about young Dean, Sam with John as the hunter father is pretty consistence across all Supernatural tie-in products including the comics Origins and Rising Son. I just hope that John Winchester is not being confined within the Supernatural tie-in products forever. I certainly hope to see Jeffrey Dean Morgan or Matt Cohen as John Winchester on the show again!

In Heart of the Dragon, we don't get to see too much of Dean and Sam, which took awhile to get used to, but nevertheless, it was a good read because of the family them, no matter how dysfunctional the family was. The Campbells was treated well in the writing department and it was a treat to read John, Dean and Sam together as a family. It was certainly an excuse to put the Campbells and the Winchesters together in one novel without getting all the guest stars back on set. The story mythology could have been better but the family element saved it.

PS 'Tiny' was a bit of douche in this book, which was funny.

Have you read it? What are your thoughts?


  1. I agree with you on the tie-in novels Tiny, they are hit and miss. I also think War Of The Sons was by far the best of them. I really want to see that as an episode. I can see it happening. It was a great idea. I also liked The Unholy Cause for the same reason, though not as much. You are right in saying that they are all just a little bit off kilter and each of them has some kind of horrendous error to character, timeline or mythos. I wished they were edited with more care in that respect.

    I have never forgiven Keith DeCandido for getting Dean's eye colour wrong. I think that was an appalling oversight. But I've still read all of the books he's written for Supernatural. Heart Of The Dragon is not just my least favourite of his books, it's my least favourite of all 8 tie-ins. I thought it was incredibly meh, for want of a more intelligent term. At the time I read it I had virtually no emotional connection to the Campbells and I just felt like too much time was spent on them. I didn't mind it so much when we got to John and I enjoyed seeing Bobby taking care of the Weechesters, but really, that was all too little for me.

    I am hugely uncomfortable with none aligned writers creating new mythology, which is essentially what was attempted here. The fact that it took over 20 chapters to finally get to the brothers, was a colossal error of judgement.

    Anyhooooo, you know I'll read the next one and the next one...both of which are pre-ordered....because I'm that needy when it comes to Supernatural and somewhat optimistic, I am always hoping they will rock my world.

    Thanks for the review Tiny!

  2. Thanks Amy. The mytho in this story was really WTF. But I didn't care so much, the family saved it. Because you warned me before I read this book, so my expectation was low. Turns out, it's better than what I expected hehe...

    Yeah.. tie-in stuff is a funny business. Have you read the comics?



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