‘Buffy’ flashback: ‘Spike and Dru: Pretty Maids All in a Row’ (2000) (Book review)

Christopher Golden delivers the first masterpiece of the “Buffy” adult novel line with “Spike and Dru: Pretty Maids All in a Row” (October 2000), the second hardcover in the series. The best, and least handcuffed parts, of Golden’s previous works (both solo and when writing with Nancy Holder) had been the centuries-spanning backstories of the demons Buffy fights in that particular book. Here, the author is allowed to revel in the past, telling of Spike and Drusilla as they pick off Slayers-in-Waiting in 1940, after stealing a list from Watchers Council headquarters in London.

Without being a dry academic read, “Spike and Dru” does the legwork of establishing how the Council works, drawing on hints dropped in the TV series, such as the fact that Kendra had a Watcher prior to being called as a Slayer, and that Faith is apprehended by Council operatives in her guest turn in “Buffy” Season 4/“Angel” Season 1.

While the active Slayer and her Watcher can only protect one town at a time (in this case, it’s Sophie and Yanna in Copenhagen, Denmark), the Council also employs operatives and many more than the one Watcher. One of their tasks is to identify Slayers-in-Waiting, apparently using magic, although the process is ill-defined. (They would be renamed “Potentials” when “Buffy” Season 7 did its year-long riff on Golden’s story, but the term “Slayers-in-Waiting” has an old-timey feel that fits with this tale.) Then a Watcher trains the Slayer-in-Waiting in case she is someday called. In “Pretty Maids All in a Row,” these Potentials and their Watchers are gathered up by operatives and moved to the safety of the London HQ.

Golden wonderfully writes Spike and Dru, darkening them up from what is allowed on network TV, blending sensuality and gothic horror during this period when they are deeply in love with each other. For the Nordic ice demon Skrymir, who has his own schemes, they agree to kill all the Slayers-in-Waiting on the list in exchange for a birthday present for Dru among the demon’s stash. The Council comes to the horrifying conclusion that the vampires are killing Potentials just for fun, and while that’s not strictly true, it’s not far off; Spike and Dru are clearly having the time of their lives.

The vampires’ quest takes them around the globe, to the swamps of Louisiana, sun-bleached buildings of a Greek island and ice caverns of Norway. Despite the scope of this tale, and the many detours away from the titular vampires, “Spike and Dru’s” compass remains pointed toward its villainous protagonists. We unironically root for Spike and Dru when they drain Nazi soldiers. Spike admits that while he is no longer human, he is still British.

The novel takes place during Hitler’s early depredations in World War II, and the author keeps that reality close. We learn that vampires are known to swarm battlefields for easy pickings (something the IDW “Angel” comics would later touch on), and the Council considers sending Sophie into the thick of it. The war presents a great opportunity to rack up vamp kills, although it will likely mean the current Slayer’s death. In an intriguing preview of “Checkpoint” (5.12), which aired soon after this, Sophie and Yanna consider telling the Council to take this job and shove it – but that landmark move is left for Buffy and Giles.

Despite keeping the focus on Spike and Drusilla, Golden nonetheless gives more characterization to Potential Slayers than all of the potential-squandering “Buffy” Season 7. In particular, we get to know the American Eleanor, who admires the bravery of Sophie, and French girl Ariana, who is in love with a Council operative and who wants to be a Watcher if she isn’t chosen. In an entertaining final battle against Skrymir, a Spanish Potential named Isabel is Chosen, then dispatched in what might be the shortest Slaying career of all time. But like a video game where the player has more lives, Eleanor is called. Intriguingly, we see this unfold from the perspective of Ariana, who hopes to feel that rush of being imbued with magical powers.

“Spike and Dru” is the first book where we get to know a Slayer outside of the TV series in her prime. (Lucy Hanover, created for the first “Buffy” TV teaser and expanded by Golden and Holder, is a ghost in her appearances up to this point.) It’s a coming-of-age story for Sophie, who transitions from a skilled order-follower to a leader when her Watcher succumbs to dementia. Yanna is a seer – like Doyle and Cordelia on “Angel” – and her visions cause her to become detached from reality. It’s an intriguing concept, and similar to what Cordelia would go through, but not exactly the same.

Spike and Dru’s bloody swath ends in a showdown with Sophie, and if you come into “Pretty Maids All in a Row” familiar with Spike’s boast in “School Hard” (2.3) that he has killed two Slayers – shown in “Fool for Love” (5.7) to be Xin Rong in 1900 China and Nikki Wood in 1977 New York City — you’ll be surprised by how it ends: Spike offs Sophie, giving him an inexplicable third kill.

Golden intended for the Chinese Slayer to be Spike’s first kill, as mentioned in this book and shown in November’s “Fool for Love” and Golden’s comic “Spike and Dru: All’s Fair,” which was released in December. When Spike kills Sophie, this is Golden’s version of Spike’s second bagged Slayer. But “Fool for Love” shows Slayer No. 2 to be Nikki Wood.

So “Pretty Maids All in a Row” was canonical for about a month before being contradicted by the TV series. This glitch is not easy to explain or retcon, since the book partly works with “Fool for Love” and partly ignores it, as if Golden was given a preview of only part of the episode. It seems out of character for an author who is so detail-oriented to make such an error. (“Pretty Maids” even ties in with his Dark Horse Presents “Angel” arc, “Lovely, Dark, and Deep,” via an artifact called the Helm of Haraxis.)

(Update on Sept. 20, 2018: Golden contacted me on Twitter, and here’s what he says about the continuity glitch: “For the record regarding ‘Pretty Maids,’ I had no idea the show planned to show Spike’s second Slayer-kill. Plot was approved by Fox and Mutant Enemy with no warning it would conflict. Yes, I was very bummed.”)

So that’s certainly unfortunate, but it only mildly diminishes this evocative novel that luxuriates in Spike and Dru in their glorious heyday and unveils specifics of what the Watchers Council does, with World War II serving as a grim backdrop.

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

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