Heart of the Dragon, Keith R.A. DeCandido’s third Supernatural novel, is set in three different time frames, showing three different generations of hunters dealing with the “Heart of the Dragon”, the spirit of a masterless samurai created by a demon in the nineteenth century. When the spirit is summoned by one of his ancestors in 1969, the Campbells have to fight it, and John Winchester has to do the same 20 years later. In 2009, it’s Sam and Dean’s task to take care of the Heart of the Dragon once and for all.
Heart of the Dragon is a good novel with pretty much just one flaw: it feels too short. The final showdown of the 2009 part in particular feels a bit rushed; after all the build-up, it comes across as a bit anticlimactic. Other than that, it is a very entertaining, well-written novel. It’s only one chapter, but I really liked the way Keith R.A. DeCandido introduces us to the back-story of the Heart of the Dragon, making him more than just a nameless tool of a Demon. The division of the plot into the three time frames works really well, especially since DeCandido was able to give each of the three sections a different feel. Where the Campbell part features a lot of nice little “family scenes” inbetween the hunting, the 1989 part feels much more intense due to the intensity of the John Winchester character, and the 2009 part finally kind of unites the traits of the two preceding parts. The scenes that tie in to the fifth season and the “armageddon” don’t really do much for me, but that’s largely due to the fact that the series hasn’t progressed beyond the third season on German free TV yet.
As always, Keith R.A. DeCandido’s main strength is the characterisation. He has already proven in his previous Supernatural outings (Nevermore and Bone Key) that he has the brothers nailed down 100%, and that’s the case here, too. Bobby’s change in behaviour between the 1989 and 2009 portions is also portrayed very well, but I have to admit that my favourite bit of characterisation is actually Albert Chao. He develops so much over the course of 40 years that you almost have to feel bad for him in the end – as much as you can feel bad for a criminal, I guess. But as usual DeCandido doesn’t stop with the good character work for characters essential to the story he wants to tell – all characters no matter how small their role get enough meat on their bones to be more than just filler material.
Overall an entertaining novel that conveys the Supernatural feel very well, despite the fact that two thirds of the novel actually don’t feature (much of) the boys, who are inarguably the cornerstones of the TV show. So if this novel proves one thing, it’s that the Supernatural series can do well without them once in a while, and I for one would like to see a full novel focussing on the Campbells, preferably written by Keith R.A. DeCandido.
Heart of the Dragon (by Keith R.A. DeCandido) was released by Titan in February 2010.