Although “Buffy” was generally a slightly better TV show than “Angel,” I remember the “Angel” novels being consistently better than the “Buffy” novels. Because “Angel” was a less serialized concept, it was easy for authors to write a good old-fashioned detective yarn and have it fit into the timeline without any problems. In my re-read, I’ll eventually get to those types of books, but the series’ first original novel, “Not Forgotten” (April 2000), is more of a thematic piece centering on mortality and leaving a legacy.
Nancy Holder, who adapted the pilot episode “City of” before this, makes “Not Forgotten” into a second pilot episode of sorts. While Angel, Cordelia and Doyle do pursue clues and information until they get to the end game, the mystery seems less important here than the theme and introducing the main characters in book form.
The primary guest character is Meg, a young Indonesian woman who aims to make it as a music star in Los Angeles after being rescued from a meager existence in her homeland by Jusef, who is now her boyfriend and all-around savior. Holder throws a monkey wrench into the structure, though, when we realize Meg’s memories have been implanted by Jusef, and deep down she does not know her identity. At times, she seems to be a vessel for evil, with a demon’s face flashing across her features, something that calls to mind the “X-Files” episode “Irresistible.”
It’s a difficult concept to get on paper, but Holder mostly succeeds. At another point, Angel meets an older woman trapped in a smoky building and listens to her deepest secrets; she doesn’t want them to die with her. As is often the case with “Angel,” the issues of the guest characters reflect on the title character: He hopes he will be remembered for his good deeds. On page 212, in a dire moment, he thinks “Buffy, don’t forget me.”
The best passage is when Angel thinks back to his tryst with a woman named Dorrie in 18th century Ireland, not long before he gets turned into a vampire. He loves her, but as a drunkard and layabout, he isn’t good enough for Dorrie’s family. Holder does these little short-stories-within-a-novel so well. Although released two months after the episode, this book was written before “The Prodigal” (1.15) came out, so Holder uses “Angelus” rather than “Liam” as Angel’s human name, but that’s a minor distraction.
Holder does excellent work with Cordelia, who is adjusting to bargain clothes shopping, failing to land acting jobs in commercials, and hopeful that a date with the attractive Jusef will turn her fortunes around. (Come to think of it, Cordy often has almost Xander-like luck with the dating game in “Angel,” doesn’t she?) She does it all in the typically endearing Cordy way, where she is outwardly self-centered but always comes through for her friends.
The author doesn’t delve into Doyle too much (he doesn’t make his entrance till page 68), as he was less of a known quantity when she wrote “Not Forgotten.” But he is generally in character, putting on a brave face for Cordy despite not being a big fan of confrontations with evil forces. At one point, he and Cordy encounter a monster in the Angel Investigations office and he realizes she expects him to go in first. So he does – behaving the way she expects him to, rather than the way he wants to.
And Kate is on hand to do her usual early Season 1 dance with Angel where she shares some information with him, withholds other information and is slightly suspicious of him.
“Not Forgotten” gets close to capturing the feel of an “Angel” episode while also peppering in monsters and action scenes – Angel is carried across town by a winged beast at one point – that a TV budget couldn’t pull off. But despite its title, it’s not all that memorable compared to Holder’s other Buffyverse works. This is a respectable start for the “Angel” novel line, but it leaves room for richer storytelling.