Review: Supernatural: Witch’s Canyon

Supernatural: Witch’s Canyon by Jeff Mariotte

Review by Paula R. Stiles

Mariotte, Jeff. Supernatural: Witch’s Canyon. New York: HarperEntertainment, 2007. 357pp. US $7.99/CAN $10.99. ISBN: 978-0-06-137091-5.

Supernatural: Witch’s Canyon works better as a straight-up horror novel than a Supernatural tie-in novel. There are tons of gore and a generally cold, grim and fatalistic atmosphere. Lots and lots of secondary characters die, some of them before we get properly acquainted with them. The plot is clearly spelled out and the MOTB brutally deep-sixed before the boys leave town. All of these things are improvements on Nevermore. In fact, this book is more coherent and less dull than some genre novels that I’ve read by supposedly wonderful authors whom I won’t be reading much of from now on. I won’t name names to protect the guilty – and myself from their devoted hordes of fans.

I wasn’t surprised to find out that the author wrote a 30 Days of Night tie-in novel. Witch’s Canyon has that kind of claustrophia-in-wide-open-wilderness that made so many horror fans drool over 30 Days of Night. Quite a few filmgoers in this genre haven’t read much of the Brothers Grimm if they think 30 Days of Night is an original premise. Or any Colonial American narratives. There’s a reason why European settlers in the Americas and Africa went after wolves and lions with genocidal abandon.

The plot is that Sam and Dean are visiting the Grand Canyon and stumble onto a hunt involving murderous random ghosts of random people and animals from throughout the history of the area. It all seems to have started with the building of a huge nearby mall, which will open in the next few days. Then they find out that the real situation is a whole lot worse. There’s a curse and the opening of the mall is coincidental not the cause. The fatal group-hauntings occur every forty years (and the dead from each cycle add to the ghost army the next time). All the mall opening will do is up the body count this cycle by about a factor of ten.

Considering the title, I doubt I’ll be spoiling much by saying that a witch is behind what’s going on. And you can extrapolate from the length of the cycles that she’s no longer in the land of the living.

So, what’s wrong with Witch’s Canyon? Well, unfortunately, the wrong stuff starts right away. The boys arrive at the Grand Canyon to admire it and we quickly find out that Sam wanted to go there and Dean didn’t. Why is this a problem? Because the show not only clearly states that Dean is the brother who likes to see different places (albeit hampered by his massive flight phobia), but has him suggest in season two’s “Croatoan” (speaking of Colonial American narratives) that they go see the Grand Canyon.

There’s more, but page 5, Chapter One pretty much blows the suspension of disbelief for the Supernatural fan right off the bat. Despite the author’s attempts to infodump some in-canon character development (like a rather nauseating Sam-POV meditation on Dean Winchester’s humility that made me want to hurl even though I generally agreed with it), these guys aren’t the Sam and Dean we know. They’re two cardboard cut-outs of hunters named Sam and Dean who are saltgunning their way through this straight-to-your-bookshelf adventure. And while the secondary characters are more tolerable than in Nevermore, with one exception, they’re not around long enough, with one exception, to acquire any dimensions themselves before they’re bloodily killed off. That one exception is a slapworthy damsel in distress who spends a few overly-described days trapped in her isolated ranch house before Sam and Dean come rescue her. And believe me, the reader feels those days.

Also odd is the lack of Native American presence, aside from a few ghosts, in the novel. Sure, this isn’t Chaco Canyon and the witch turns out not to be Native American, but the Grand Canyon is a busy place, archeologically-speaking. Petroglyphs and pictograms, ruins, graves, strange local legends…seems odd the author didn’t research them more.

So, I’m on the fence. If a horror fan asked me to recommend a fast, gory ride set in the American Southwest without a lot of character navel-gazing, I’d happily suggest this. But as a Supernatural novel, it’s not quite satisfying.

The fact that the publisher seems determined to pick for book covers the dorkiest poses from early shoots that predate even Dean’s signature necklace doesn’t help. Come on–I don’t think I’ll shock anybody by saying that Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles are more than hot enough to burn up a good cover all by themselves, with no horror-element additives. And they both have some great, in-character photos out there (entire calendars of them, as my wall can attest). Pick one of those not ones where the boys (especially Ackles) look awkward and uncomfortable.

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