Diana G. Gallagher’s “Prime Evil” (March 2000) is a game-changer for the “Buffy” book series – not because it’s significantly better than other books (although it is a step up from Gallagher’s first entry, “Obsidian Fate”), but because it’s the first novel to acknowledge books written by other authors. Additionally, Gallagher does a delicate continuity dance where she successfully works Anya into a story before “The Prom” (3.20), when the ex-demon humorously asks Xander to the prom out of nowhere and becomes a main character.
“Prime Evil” takes place after “Doppelgangland” (3.16), since Anya is well-established as a high school student and Buffy references Willow flinging a pencil into a tree. I place it before “Enemies” (3.17), since no references are made to those pivotal events. In fact, by this point I almost wonder if the book writers had a mandate to not use Faith. Wesley is also not so much as mentioned here, and his absence is even more of a stretch than Faith’s, since the gang spends so much time in the library. You’d think Wes might pop in at some point.
“Prime Evil’s” story is familiar: The most powerful magic user to ever exist plans to take over the world. In the fashion of Miss French from “Teacher’s Pet” (1.4), this villain starts as a teacher named Crystal Gordon (misnamed Crystal Gregory on the back cover), then uses magic and false promises to ensnare Anya, Michael and other power- or status-hungry students into her coven. Crystal, actually named Shugra, took over for the history teacher killed in “Obsidian Fate.”
The way the story unfolds is completely predictable, and the climax where the Scooby Gang combines their energies and skills to defeat Shugra is a few chapters too long. However, I give Gallagher significant bonus points for her references: The characters remember that they used this same procedure of combining their energies in “The Gatekeeper Trilogy” (they will again in the Season 4 climax, titled “Primeval,” probably coincidentally) and that they also faced a powerful witch in “Immortal.”
This situation is at least slightly different. The author gets some humor out of the curse Shugra has placed on Willow, who has rejected the coven’s invitation: When she tries to speak about Crystal or magic, her words get jumbled. (Readers can rearrange the letters to realize what she’s trying to say.) As such, Buffy – linked to Willow’s magic – must deliver the winning spell.
No doubt purposely presaging her role on the spinoff series “Angel,” which was on the air by this point, Gallagher finds a good role for Cordelia: To make a few bucks now that she is poor, she takes Giles’ job offer of typing information into a new Slayer history database Willow has set up in the library computer. In “Angel” Season 1, she comes up with the idea of a demon database.
Cordy is also tasked with keeping watch on werewolf Oz here. I haven’t done a tally, but I’m certain that if the TV episodes, books and comics are all counted, that Oz turns into a werewolf far more than once per month. There seem to be weekly full moons during Season 3.
For those who want to view “Prime Evil” as a canonical story, a subtle change in the Xander-Anya relationship must be noted. Here we learn that Anya has been eyeing Xander for a while and that he is not interested, since she is a former Patron Saint of Women Scorned who did horrible things to men. In this story, Anya breaks free of Shugra’s influence just enough to swing the final battle, and Xander and the gang warm slightly to her. As such, the romance is subtly recast from a surprised but happy Xander being swept up by the aggressive Anya (as per the TV series) to Xander reluctantly giving into Anya’s advances (as per this book).
Gallagher might’ve missed a chance to do more with Michael, who on the TV show was the token “whatever the boy of ‘witch’ is” in Amy’s circle. (I’m surprised to find out he only appeared in “Gingerbread,” 3.11, though.) The gang assumes that Michael’s wish would be for Amy, his closest friend, to be transformed from a rat back into a human, although that’s never confirmed. There’s potential for a sweet story here (maybe the shy Michael is in love with Amy), but the author keeps it at arm’s length.
While “Prime Evil’s” super-witch threat is not new, “Buffy” fans should find the novel enjoyable since Gallagher knows the characters’ voices and peppers in the intriguing add-on to Anya’s arc.