‘Buffy’ flashback: ‘Here Be Monsters’ (2000) (Book review)

“Here Be Monsters” (June 2000) is the most padded “Buffy” novel so far, but the meat of Cameron Dokey’s debut effort is pretty decent. Once the 178-pager finally gets to Buffy’s trial – proscribed by the demon Nemesis — where she takes on the monsters in her head, there are some fun references that ask “What if Buffy had lost against the bad guy in previous episodes?”

Buffy sees Cordelia’s face cut up by Marcie if “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” (1.11) had turned out differently, a headless Xander if Natalie French had had her way in “Teacher’s Pet” (1.4) and a sliced-open Willow if the Master’s minions had succeeded in “When She Was Bad” (2.1).

I’m not sure it makes sense that Buffy’s fear-monster lineup includes herself at various ages, but I like what Dokey is aiming for as the book’s emotional core. Joyce is putting together a scrapbook of Buffy childhood photos, which causes Buffy to reflect on her life so. Dokey makes some things up out of whole cloth, like a young Buffy’s fear of spiders, but also taps into “Killed By Death” (2.18), wherein a sick Buffy fears death and remembers her late cousin Celia. The ep also featured flashbacks to an 8-year-old Buffy imagining herself as Power Girl (DC’s Power Girl or a generic “Power Girl?” We may never know.).

I was happy to see that reference, because I think “Killed By Death” is an underappreciated episode. Without it, we might think that cheerleader Buffy did a 180 to become a superhero once her Slayer powers kicked in, but in “Killed By Death” we learn she had a bit of superhero moxie as a kid.

The rest of “Here Be Monsters” – set in the back half of Season 3 (this is the first book with a “historian’s note” saying what season it takes place in) — is stuff we’ve seen before, without added dimensions. A fat Mama Vamp from the Confederate Civil War era makes for a fun image, but her two sons are essentially the cowboy vamp Gorch brothers from “Bad Eggs” (2.12) switched to an older era.

Camo-jacket-wearing tough girl Suz Tompkins, whose two best friends are offed by the Confederate vampire family, can be added to the list of Sunnydale High students who know about vampires and Slayers (at least on a surface level), adding further legitimacy to Buffy’s Class Protector Award in “The Prom” (3.20).

While “Here Be Monsters” is a good Buffy-and-Joyce novel, it must be said that the rest of the Scoobies drop the ball. Willow nearly kills herself doing a scrying spell that merely allows the Scoobs to watch Buffy in her trial. Eventually, the gang tries to physically help Buffy, but they arrive after the action – a straight copy of the gag from “Gingerbread” (3.11). Angel, Giles, Willow and Oz are nominally in character, but Xander is a parody; every one of his contributions is such an extreme “look at me” one-liner that Giles has to regularly tell him to shut up.

While it’s not exactly a mission to get through 178 pages, “Here Be Monsters” is nonetheless padded. Chapter 1 is a long and unsurprising vamp-and-victim chase, and it’s not till page 21 that we join up with a main “Buffy” character. The book could’ve been a good 80-page novella if it had focused on Buffy’s arc about confronting her buried fear of failing, although that raises the question of how to get the rest of the gang out of the picture. Indeed, too much of this book consists of Dokey checking in on the supporting cast and assuring that they can’t contribute anything.

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

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