Carved in Flesh is the twelfth companion book written for the Supernatural TV series. Released in April of 2013, it was written by Tim Waggoner, who also wrote Supernatural, the Television Series: The Roads Not Taken (Oct 2013) and a companion book for another popular science fiction genre show, Stargate SG-1. Mr. Waggoner teaches a college-level creative writing course and is an established author of fantasy and horror stories.
It stands to reason, then, that a wonderfully descriptive writing style was evident throughout Carved in Flesh. The story took place in Brennan, Ohio. Sam and Dean were hunting an unknown creature that left desiccated corpses in its wake. The plot wound its way through mad scientists, biotechnology, an ancient alchemist and a mysterious, evil power. Meticulous imagery enabled me to visualize each character and each scene, from the mundane to the gruesome, in vivid detail. I shared the thoughts, sights and feelings of the victims as they were stalked and eventually killed. Exhaustive backstories enabled me to truly sympathize with the victims and understand the motivations of both the heroes and villains of the story. One of these backstories included a long and involved flashback of an event that occurred in Sam and Dean’s childhood. While it took a very long time for the significance of the memory to be revealed, it ended up being extremely relevant to the climax of the primary plot. The fact that the story included a rare glimpse into a few days of the boys’ childhood was an added bonus.
As much as I enjoyed the technical writing of this book, though, I have to admit that overall I found it frustrating to read. The primary drawback to the book, or maybe I should say the thing that ruined it for me, was the balance of writing time spent on Sam and Dean vs. the supporting characters of the story. I estimate that at least half of the book was not about Sam and Dean. Rather, it was about the supporting characters, antagonists and victims. While the story methodically developed parallel story lines that converged at various climactic moments, I found I was annoyed trying to slosh through everyone else’s story to get to the chapters that focused on Sam and Dean! Relatively equal treatment of a plot’s diverse characters may work well for original stories, but this story takes place in the Supernatural universe. In that space, and to those fans, Sam and Dean are not simply the heroes of the story, they ARE the story. Everyone and everything else is solely a backdrop for learning more about Sam and Dean. I did not feel that overriding bias was at all understood or adequately delivered by this book. For example, I mentioned the flashback memory of something traumatic that happened to the brothers early in their lives. While appreciated, this story could have been so much more. For one thing, its development was fragmented. I would just get interested in what was happening when the author would switch back to present day and what was happening with the supporting characters. I was happy to spend time in Sam and Dean’s past! I loved reading more about their childhoods and an event that helped shape their psyches. I wanted to linger longer in this story! A great deal of potential for a shared realization or recognition of brotherly support went unrealized.
To be fair, when there was a focus on Sam and Dean, they were accurately and consistently portrayed compared to the TV series. Their internal dialogues, conversations, motivations and actions were true to the prior eight years of complex mythology and character development that Supernatural fans know in intricate, excruciating detail. It was clear that Mr. Waggoner had done his homework. The story took place in season 7 between “Time After Time” and “The Slice Girls” in Sam and Dean’s timeline. There were appropriate references connecting the book’s hunt to the Leviathan storyline. Their reasons for taking time to pursue this hunt were convincing enough that I could accept this diversion from the main myth arc shown in TV series. So again, I found the story to be technically accurate. What was lacking, though, was the sense of emotional drama that is so much a part of Supernatural. For example, Sam gets injured fairly early in the book, but the progression of his plot line was agonizingly slow! His condition was mentioned quite often but it didn’t improve or deteriorate. The same status was just repeated over and over. Sam is tired in the car, Sam is tired at the crime scene, Sam is tired at the motel. Sam is tired talking to witnesses. Dean wonders why Sam is tired. Sam wonders why Sam is tired! So I continued reading trying to find out why Sam was so tired. This tantalizing plot point captured my attention because it was interesting and obviously important. Instead of focusing on or at least capitalizing on this drama, though, the story mentioned it then switched back to what was happening with one of the antagonists. Chapter after chapter added details to the case while Sam and Dean’s plight was handled logically and procedurally rather than dramatically or emotionally.
The premise of the story’s evil creature was also a bit of a stretch even for the Supernatural world. I won’t ruin it for you because it wasn’t revealed until fairly deep into the story, but I found it a bit ludicrous and at times, even a little gross (I flinched a few times reading those incredibly detailed descriptions). Honestly, I actually felt a little insulted by the choice of “monsters”, as if the author assumed the Supernatural fan would accept even the most bizarre premise. OK, I have to admit that the TV show has gone to some really weird places and we, as fans, have gone there right along with them, so the assumption that we could and would accept even the wildest story wasn’t totally without foundation. I ultimately decided to suspend my extreme disbelief and go along with the lore just to enjoy the book. The logic for the lore was sound so I got past this hindrance.
Overall, this book was acceptably interesting but not my favorite companion story. In fact, bouncing back and forth between the character’s stories and the lack of emphasis on Sam and Dean probably made it my least favorite out of the four I have read so far. Still, it wasn’t horrible to read, so it might be worth your time when you are looking for light reading that happens to involve our favorite brothers. There wasn’t anything inherently bad or wrong with it; it just didn’t excite me. My overall ratings:
Writing style: 6 out of 10 (10 for creative writing; 5 for the Ping-Pong approach to the parallel stories)
Reading Enjoyment: 5 out of 10 (mostly for the time I had to spend on non-Sam-and-Dean detail)