‘Buffy’ flashback: ‘Visitors’ (1999) (Book review)

After the “Buffy” novels split into adult and young-adult lines in late 1998, “Visitors” (April 1999) relaunched the YA line. At 163 pages, and without a detailed ancient history for the villain, it sets the template for this series in its concluding few years: Ideally, quick, fun reads that capture the flavor of the show. (The adult line would generally have more pages, deeper backstories for the villains, and a weighty issue for one or more of the Scooby Gang to work through.)

“Visitors” has the interesting talking point of introducing a creature called a korred, which forces people to dance to the death, something that calls to mind “Once More, With Feeling” (6.6). First-time writers Laura Anne Gilman and Josepha Sherman also give us other creative elements such as a gaggle of student teachers who take over the library, obviously not knowing that it’s the Slayerettes meeting spot. Since the gang can’t explain that, they meet at Giles’ apartment instead — breaking it in for Season 4, as it turns out. Ethan Rayne is also in town, curious about the korred; and a Watcher’s Council member named Panner is taking notes on Giles’ and Buffy’s procedure, which calls to mind “Checkpoint” (5.12).

“Visitors” is both decompressed and underwritten. The korred spies on Buffy from the shadows, but vows to itself that it must build up its energy by draining the life force from other victims before it takes on this girl with so much life force. There are about a half-dozen passages of this nature, as well as the opposite POV where Buffy gets a wiggins while patrolling, feeling like she’s being watched.

Rayne doesn’t do much other than watch from a distance, although we do get a tiff between him and Giles – those are always fun. Panner is the weirdest inclusion, as he’s supposedly observing Buffy and Giles, but we don’t see him doing it. Nor do we find out why Giles hates him; although this supposedly takes place in the spring of Season 3, the authors had not yet seen “Helpless” (3.12), where he is fired from the Council and his and Buffy’s loathing for that bureaucratic body is established.

(If we chalk up the spring reference in the opening chapter as an error, “Visitors” takes place sometime after Ethan’s appearance in “Band Candy,” 3.6, and before “Lovers Walk,” 3.8, as Xander and Cordy are still a couple and Giles is still officially a Watcher.)

Gilman and Sherman are smart for anticipating Giles’ antipathy for the Council; however, Panner also creates a continuity problem. If “Visitors” is set in the fall, it predates Giles’ falling-out with the Council in “Helpless” and makes us want more information about the specific Panner-Giles feud. If it’s set in the spring, Giles is no longer officially employed a Watcher, and the Council would not be grading him. Rather, Panner would probably be sent to take over Giles’ job, something Wesley eventually does in “Bad Girls” (3.14).

On a side note, the “Buffy”-verse’s handling of Slayers and the Watcher’s Council has always been wonky. There’s only one (or two) Slayers at a time, but there are tons of Watchers. Some of them work with Potential Slayers, but their ability to identify Potentials is flawed – Buffy, for example, never received pre-calling training. And even when a girl becomes a Slayer, she can go without a Watcher for weirdly long stretches, as is the case with Kendra and Faith. And for a while, Wesley is assigned to both Faith and Buffy; it seems like more could be spared from the London headquarters.

But back to the book at hand. The presence of Panner, Ethan and the student teachers makes for a richer read, as I wondered what their ultimate role would be. It’s weird, though, that in the end Panner’s only contribution is to tell Willow she might make a good Watcher someday (an interesting notion that’s never brought up again, although Willow does of course remain Buffy’s staunch ally), and the student teachers’ only contribution is that the korred followed one of them from her previous town. The Scoobies tease Giles that the female student teachers have a thing for him, which is why they are using the library, but we don’t get an actual scene showing any flirtation.

The Bronze’s Battle of the Bands, at which Oz’s band, Dingoes Ate My Baby, is competing, also adds some energy to the proceedings. There’s a nice moment when Buffy breaks up a near-fight and reflects that Sunnydale’s youths can’t give Principal Snyder any excuse to use his influence to shut down the Bronze.

The Battle of the Bands is a reason for the authors to set Oz aside and focus on the other five. Indeed, the scenes of Giles, Buffy, Willow, Xander and Cordy researching the korred are the best in the book, as the authors know how to pen their banter. Ultimately, “Visitors” is typical of the YA books: A brisk read with fun but underdeveloped ideas that doesn’t smoothly fit into the continuity.

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

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