‘Buffy’ flashback: ‘These Our Actors’ (2002) (Book review)

“These Our Actors” (September 2002) is everything a “Buffy” novel should be. Authors Ashely McConnell and Dori Koogler fill in a narrative gap from the TV show and turn supporting players – Spike and Willow – into main characters, allowing for a fresh perspective on things, rather than simply showing us they know the show’s rhythms (which they do).

Most impressively, these two female authors perfectly capture what it’s like for a young male to be rejected by the woman he loves. While “Fool For Love” (5.7) served its purpose of showing Spike’s hopeless romanticism through the years, from Cecily to Buffy, if one looks strictly at the Cecily part of the story, it is incomplete. In the 1880 London scenes of “These Our Actors,” the authors give us an intimate look at Spike’s shame, heartbreak and anger over being rejected, but then take it a step further: After being sired by Drusilla, Spike works up an elaborate scheme – along with Angelus, who loves this sort of thing – to toy with Cecily before killing her.

The passages featuring Spike, Drusilla, Angelus and Darla are delightful. Everyone is in character, even the difficult-to-write Dru, and the authors capture the speaking style of the time and pepper in wonderful old-timey words such as “chifferobe” and “mantillas.” It’s like reading a book not just set in 1880, but written in that era.

For fans familiar with the TV show’s narrative, we must cue a record scratch before getting too far into “These Our Actors’ ” story. “Older and Far Away” (6.14), which aired around the time this book was being written, strongly hints that Cecily goes on to become the vengeance demon Halfrek. Both characters are played by Kali Rocha, and in “Older and Far Away,” Halfrek and William recognize each other. The Buffy Wiki page lists them as being the same character, and Rocha has said she believes they are the same person, although Joss Whedon hasn’t given a definitive statement on the issue. The comic book “Spike: Old Times” (2005) would later beef up Cecily/Halfrek’s story and show a more substantial modern interaction with Spike.

So “These Our Actors’ ” canonicity is dubious, but I find it to be a more satisfying narrative than what we get from the “Older and Far Away”/“Spike: Old Times” thread. It’s delicious wish-fulfillment to read about a man who has his confidence destroyed gain vampire strength and lose any sense of remorse, then plot an elaborate revenge on the woman who stomped on his heart. But even as we love Spike for how relatable he is, a reader maintains just a twinge of guilt because he’s obviously taking this a step too far: Logically, death is an out-of-proportion penalty for being a big meanie. So Cecily isn’t merely a tactless monster; there are moments when we feel sorry for her.

But hey, the best fiction unapologetically taps into emotions. Along those lines, the authors’ decision to position the modern narrative at the UC-Sunnydale theater – a place where grand emotions play out in stage productions — works beautifully. McConnell is the more accomplished writer (she’ll go on to write “Angel: Book of the Dead”), but the back-of-the-book bio says Koogler is the theater nerd.

While Willow would certainly not take an acting class – see “The Puppet Show” (1.9) – I can believe she’d be interested in working backstage as part of this theater history class she takes in the fall semester of Season 5. With the professor — Cecily’s dad, Addams – somehow being more than a century old, and with ghosts filling the stage after dark, the magically inclined Willow is the perfect co-lead for this story.

It’s fun and fascinating to see Willow work with Spike to solve this case, as the previous time she had invited him into her dorm room, a year prior, he tried to bite her. The rest of the Scooby Gang appears early in the story, but only sporadically thereafter; it’s not false advertising that Willow and Spike are on the book cover. To me, that’s a strength of this novel, not a bug.

While I usually give a half-banana demerit to a Buffyverse book that doesn’t fit with continuity, I’m not going to do that here. To me, this is the Spike-Cecily drama that should’ve unfolded. While the idea of Cecily and Halfrek being the same person was intriguing for a moment, nothing much comes of it, even if “Spike: Old Times” is a solid comic. What’s more, “These Our Actors” fits tidily in early Season 5 as a story that doesn’t have world-threatening stakes, but means a lot in the lives of Willow and especially Spike.

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

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