‘Buffy’ flashback: ‘Sins of the Father’ (1999) (Book review)


id you know that during Season 3, Giles was once tormented by the return of his father as a vampire – something that’s even more traumatizing to him than the death of Jenny? One of the odd things about delving into the “Buffy” Expanded Universe is that my brain holds two continuities simultaneously – one is limited to the events of the TV show, and the other incorporates the novels and comics. I tend to default to the first continuity, but Christopher Golden’s “Sins of the Father”(November 1999) is a prime example of how the further adventures can be fascinating.

The books often predict a future TV storyline: “Sins of the Father” perhaps inspired the “Angel” episode “Lineage” (5.7), where Wesley is tormented by his “father.” In both cases, it turns out the villain is not really the Watcher’s father — in “Sins” it’s a shapeshifter, in “Lineage” it’s a robot – but the emotions are real to Giles and Wesley.

But in rare cases, the books tell a fairly essential story, and this is one of them, as we catch up with Pike, Buffy’s fellow survivor at the end of “The Origin” comic miniseries (based on Joss Whedon’s movie script) who is never mentioned in the TV series. Functionally, Whedon no doubt excised Pike from the TV narrative because he’s essentially split into Angel, Xander and Oz. But narratively, the question of “What ever happened to Pike?” remains valid.

In rare cases, the books tell a fairly essential story, and this is one of them, as we catch up with Pike, Buffy’s fellow survivor at the end of “The Origin” comic miniseries (based on Joss Whedon’s movie script) who is never mentioned in the TV series.

On my first read, I felt like Golden mischaracterized the relationship as a romantic one, as Buffy struggles with her feelings for Pike (played by Luke Perry in the movie, so that’s how I picture him here, and how he’s portrayed on the book cover). However, a later-written story, the comic arc “Viva Las Buffy!” (Issues 51-54; 2002-03) – a sequel to “The Origin” — shows the deepening of their feelings for each other. Although that comic arc would be written by others, Golden alludes to the Las Vegas events here, including Buffy giving Pike a facial scar.

Now that we have access to all of Pike’s adventures with Buffy, “Sins of the Father” serves as closure for their relationship — although Pike does pop up once more in the comic in “Note from the Underground” (47-50). She is fated to Slayer duty and he is not interested in that lifestyle. Although this arguably makes Pike seem lame (and it is odd that he so openly admits that he is worthless in the long-term battle against evil), he functions as a foil to Xander and Willow, who do choose to fight at Buffy’s side.

There is a reason for Pike’s visit – he’s being chased by a rock demon – but for readers, the joy of his appearance is that he gives an outside perspective on the highly unusual makeup of Buffy’s friend group. I smiled at the part where he enters the library for the first time and is casually introduced to a werewolf and a good vampire.

“Sins of the Father” – the eighth book in the adult “Buffy” series — is Golden’s first novel that’s not co-written with Nancy Holder. It lacks passages telling the villain’s backstory (making me wonder if that’s what Holder brings to the table), which allows the late-game twist of “Mr. Giles” being a shapeshifter named Malthus to work, but it also robs us of the backstory of Giles’ grandfather fighting Malthus.

This book set after “Doppelgangland” (3.16), as Willow references her ability to shoot a pencil into a tree, and presumably before “Enemies” (3.17), when the fight against Faith and the Mayor comes to the fore. Golden messes up the background continuity, though, as he moves “The Origin” up to the fall of 1996. Perhaps this is why he took the basketball scenes (from the movie) and allusions to it being the final semester out of “The Origin.” This ignores Buffy’s statement in “Witch” (1.3) that she’s “been slaying vampires for more than a year now,” and today it is widely accepted that the TV series’ events started in early 1997. It’s even more universally accepted that the events of “The Origin” were in the spring of 1996, not the fall.

I thought I spotted an error on page 150 where Angel enters a house uninvited. Since the occupant turns out to be non-human, it arguably works out, although I still think he should’ve taken note of the fact that he was able to enter. And it’s especially noteworthy since one of the story’s openly stated mysteries is how vampires are able to enter Giles’ apartment uninvited in the opening chapters.

To his credit, Golden also comes up with a couple fun inventions that unfortunately never caught on in the wider mythology: Oz uses a Super Soaker filled with holy water, and Cordelia uses a flashlight with a cross painted on it.

Although even more decompressed than most “Buffy” books, “Sins of the Father” is a good read, giving us meaty material even beyond Giles’ troubled relationship with his father and Pike’s romance with Buffy and his views on the fight against evil. Giles going into a shell, much to Buffy’s irritation, is a nice reversal of Buffy temporarily shirking her duty in the summers before Seasons 2 and 3. And, as often the case in the novels, the inner decency of Cordelia – who is still on the team despite having broken up with Xander – is played up more, paving the way for her role on “Angel.”

Click here for an index of all of John’s “Buffy” and “Angel” reviews.