John Passarella's first "Supernatural" novel was easily one of the best, and so the notion of a follow-up was a welcome one. Making it even more tantalizing was the thought of a "Supernatural" novel taking place a stone's throw from where I grew up in southern New Jersey! While various place names and location details have been modified to protect the relatively innocent, it's not hard for a former native to read between the lines.
Set firmly in the first half of the seventh season, the novel fulfills the editorial mandate of depicting events that could never happen on-screen, given the legendary budget constraints that have come with being one of the longest running series on the struggling CW network. In a way, that mandate is both a blessing and a curse.
One of the biggest problems with the seventh season of "Supernatural" was the inability to communicate the full scale of the threat of the Leviathans; as voracious as they were, they could hardly be engaging in mass killings on a budget! Meanwhile, Sam's struggle with his inner Lucifer was hobbled by the limited availability of Mark Pellegrino. The author tries to place this novel in context with those long-running plot arcs, but is only partially successful. While Sam's struggle with Lucifer is actually enhanced by its relevance in the novel, cropping up at all the wrong moments, the references to the Leviathans only serve to highlight how disproportionate the novel's events seem in comparison.
And these events are huge. Right from the start, Tora (the main antagonist) is killing folks left and right. By the time I got several chapters into the book, I was wondering how the death toll wouldn't be cause for massive state response. I'm fairly positive that outbreaks of deadly MRSA and flu strains, overwhelming hospital staff, would be extremely noteworthy for that part of the state. Especially since "Laurel Hill" is more or less adjacent to some of the more affluent areas of South Jersey!
Later set pieces further strain the willing suspension of disbelief on this point. One incident involving a pedestrian bridge would be national news, and then there's the capstone that initiates the titular rite of passage that would, quite possibly, reach international proportion. (Not only that, but in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado incident, this could be a very uncomfortable few chapters for some readers. Be forewarned.)
These are hardly concerns unique to this novel; all tie-in media has the potential to be too big and momentous when compared to the "canon" surrounding it. And the downside to maintaining appropriate scale is that the story can seem incidental or meaningless. Knowing that the editorial staff told the authors of the more recent books to throw caution to the wind mitigates some of the annoyance, but it still feels out of proportion.
It may sound like this is a negative review, but for the most part, the book is an excellent example of a "Supernatural" tale. Taken on its own, this could even be seen as the basis for a big-budget film treatment. The characterizations are right on point, the mythology is well-maintained, and all of the various elements come together in the end. On that basis, the book is recommended for "Supernatural" fans, if stark reminders of recent tragedies would not be too upsetting.