Review: Supernatural: One Year Gone

By Paula R. Stiles

Dessertine, Rebecca. Supernatural: One Year Gone. Titan Books (May 24, 2011). 335 pp. USD $7.99; CAN $8.99; £6.99. ISBN: 978-0857680990.

If you’ve been waiting for Supernatural to go straight-up and unapologetically Mythos (as opposed to, say, doing an unacknowledged homage to Re-Animator in “Time Is on My Side”), this is your month. First, we had a Mythos two-hander in the last two episodes of the season, “inspired” by Lovecraft’s last story, “The Haunter of the Dark“. Now we have the first tie-in novel of the year, One Year Gone, which is a heavy-duty homage (or perhaps SPNverse sequel) to Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House”.

In the missing year between seasons five and six, Dean Winchester has had a rough time. Though now living an apparently happy suburban existence with his girlfriend Lisa and her son Ben, Dean is, in fact, an unstable alcoholic, plagued by the knowledge that his brother Sam is in Hell. Since Dean’s been there himself, he knows how horrible that really is. He starts looking for any possible way to break Sam out. This being Mythos (and, love or hate the show, this is definitely a Mythos book), he finds it. And it’s scary.

It seems there’s a book called “The Necronomicon” that is reputed to contain spells that can open Hell and raise the dead. And it’s in Salem, Massachusetts. So, Dean drags Lisa and Ben off on a “vacation” to Salem, in order to get that book. But he’s being watched by two hunters with surprising connections to him, and others want the book for their own reasons. As it turns out, those others are ancient enemies of his mother’s family, the Campbells. On top of it all is what price the book itself will demand for unlocking its secrets.

First of all, if you haven’t yet seen season six and you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read this book. There are spoilers at least up through 6.10 – and by “spoilers”, I mean giving away a couple of the season’s big twists.

I had reservations (and not high hopes) about this one. It’s Deancentric, true, and I like Dean. It’s also Mythos, and I like Mythos. But there’s a lot of bad Mythos out there and “Deancentric” doesn’t automatically equal “great” in the Supernatural tie-ins, either. Rebecca Dessertine co-authored a previous tie-in novel, War of the Sons, and it wasn’t very good, with Dean and Sam frequently out of character, and a very annoying love interest for Dean.

So, I was happy to find that this one’s pretty decent. The book is straight-up horror, as with all the Supernatural tie-ins. If you are looking for dark fantasy that doesn’t rip out guts, you need to look elsewhere. People, some of them innocent, die quite horribly. Dean is a classic Lovecraftian protagonist in that he is so unstable that he leaves everyone around him guessing and off-balance about his motives and what he’ll do next. Not so much as to make him an anti-hero, but enough to make him unpredictable, despite much of the book being from his POV. When he finds out the price of the Necronomicon‘s spells, for example, his concerns about how to fulfill that price boil down to a crazy kind of practicality. Personally, I thought the story was a better take on the Lovecraft Mythos than what we got at the end of season six.

Some things I wasn’t so wild about – Sam is in this one (despite the situation described above), but is as we see him in the first half of season six, though even less sympathetic. Giving him some POV scenes actually makes him more repellant than early in season six and made me wish even less of the book dealt with him. I mean, it’s not as though he figures in any really important way into the plot. Lisa is pleasant, but mainly there to support Dean, give him free therapy (There’s a scene early on where he does visit a psychiatrist and it’s pretty amusing), get mad at him on occasion for “corrupting” her son, and get kidnapped/rescued (a lot). Granted, she’s pretty good at helping out with getting rescued, but she can’t seem to get out of any fixes on her own. Ben gets a little more to do, helping Dean out on an entertaining piratical hunt. And the street gang thing near the end is more than a little goofy. I know Salem has issues with crime, but…jeez.

Another, bigger problem is that fairly large sections of the book tell a story via a journal of a Campbell ancestor who lived through the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. I found these a bit tedious. These tie-in stories aren’t (and really can’t be) canon. While I like meeting guest and recurring characters in the show itself, I’ve always been a bit meh about reading large amounts of story involving one-shot guest characters in tie-in novels for any show. I struggle to care about them because I will likely never see them again after that book. Whereas, I do have investment in the regular characters and like reading their MOTW adventures, even when those adventures aren’t canon. On top of it all, this journal seems intended to be backstory to Dean’s (and Sam’s) maternal family…but since it’s in a tie-in, it will never be canon. So, getting too interested in that backstory would only lead to disappointment for a fan of the show.

Perhaps part of my aversion is that One Year Gone revives the show’s tendency to swallow European folklore about witchcraft whole without looking too hard into that lore’s more misogynistic and antisemitic aspects. When you posit a world where the Reformation Era ideas about witchcraft (used as an excuse to murder tens of thousands of innocent people over the course of three centuries) turn out to be true, you are opening up a huge can of worms. And that’s not even getting into modern witchcrazes like the “necklacing” of innocent women in Africa today.

That said, this is a pretty good read. The plot does take advantage of the Mythos elements, rather than using them as window-dressing. Dean’s single-minded search for the book (and his general unpredictability) keeps the story moving in not-entirely-predictable directions. And there’s some nice local colour and satire about the town’s mixed feelings toward its cottage industry in witch tourism. The book’s worth checking out.

You can buy Supernatural: One Year Gone at Amazon.com.

About Paula R. Stiles

Paula is not at all paranoid about government conspiracies after six years in EMS, two years in Africa for the Peace Corps, a few summers with the Park Service, and ten years studying the Knights Templar. She's seen governments in action. They couldn't cover up a toy picnic table, let alone evidence of alien visitation. Writes about science for fun, history for money, and zombies for the company. You can read her sober-as-a-judge book about Templars in medieval Spain, Templar Convivencia, on Amazon. You can find her homepage at: http://thesnowleopard.net.

Paula R. StilesReview: Supernatural: One Year Gone