In the first “Angel” hardcover, “Endangered Species” (October 2002), Nancy Holder and Jeff Mariotte spend the first two acts delivering a decompressed narrative that shows their strong grasp of where the characters are at in early Season 3. We soak up Angel’s growing feelings for Cordelia and Fred’s post-Pylea introversion, and everyone is on their game (except, as is common for these novels, I always feel like Gunn calls people “dog” more than on the TV show).
Faith’s characterization is hit and miss in the Buffyverse novels, but she’s mostly on form in this one. Wolfram & Hart springs her from prison so she can be hunted “Most Dangerous Game”-style on an island off the California coast. There are some decent internal monologues from Faith and Wesley as they deal with the awkwardness of seeing each other for the first time since Faith tortured him in “Five by Five” (“Angel” 1.18). She’s trying to be a better person, but is also frustrated with Gunn and Wes for cramping her style on the island, as she has Slayer stamina and they don’t.
The hunt thread on San Teodor is surprisingly tame; Slayerfest ’98 from “Homecoming” (“Buffy” 3.5) is more intense. The trio spends most of the time running to stay ahead of the hunters, rather than having encounters with them.
Since I’m a continuity nerd, whenever Faith meets people for the first time in spinoff fiction, I have to check how it lines up with the TV show. Here, it doesn’t. In “Salvage” (“Angel” 4.13), Faith meets Gunn, Fred and Lorne for the first time, even though she had already met them in “Endangered Species.” If one wants to be generous, “Salvage’s” dialogue could be interpreted so she is reacquainting herself with these people, but it’s obvious that the TV writers didn’t give a lick about book continuity.
For those keeping track at home, Faith has now been sprung from prison three times: in the “Unseen” trilogy, “The Wisdom of War” and now this book. She’ll later be freed in “Chaos Bleeds,” which takes place shortly after “Endangered Species” by my estimation (although some people place it before this book), the comic series “Note from the Underground,” and ultimately her arc in “Angel” Season 4/“Buffy” Season 7. And maybe more books I haven’t gotten to yet on this re-read.
The enjoyably decompressed start to “Endangered Species” morphs into an overstuffed yet underwritten final act. There are two separate ancient vampires who want to rule the world: Benedicta and Marianna. Neither is memorable, although there is a nice origin snippet about Drusilla siring a nun who goes on to become Benedicta. And Chaz Escobar’s quest to un-sire his wife, Marianna, is also engaging for a while.
In addition to a compelling flashback where Angel desires to have his soul removed so he can regain the peace of being Angelus, I dig the idea that if Angel’s plan to kill the Beast of the First Blood succeeds, all vampires will be wiped from the Earth. He struggles with this notion – and his friends hate it – but of course he is willing to sacrifice himself. The conclusion of this thread is remarkably weak, though: Our heroes kill the Beast, but vampires aren’t wiped from existence after all. Explanation or theorizing about this twist would’ve been welcome.
It’s as if Holder and Mariotte carefully crafted the first two acts of “Endangered Species” but then had to rush the final act to meet a deadline. The sloppiest part is that Angel’s ally, Lohiau, turns on him and we get passages about Angel’s surprise, but later we learn it’s a fake-out that Lohiau and Angel had planned together.
“Endangered Species” has so many characters that it seems Holder and Mariotte didn’t have time to write all of them properly. The subplot about monsters on San Teodor rebelling against their masters is both clichéd and underplayed. And there’s a poor Goth girl who is part of Benedicta’s Beast-summoning ceremony who is simply slaughtered like the plot device she is. I can’t recall another Buffyverse story where a murdered human gets so little reaction out of our heroes. Entire stories have been built around Angel’s quest for justice for an innocent stranger.
The final battle in the desert is as disappointing as the island hunt thread, as both sides summon armies of mystical creatures to do the fighting. Among those creatures are miniscule monsters, and I like this continuity nod: Angel recalls the faeries from “Child of the Hunt,” the first adult “Buffy” novel, co-written by Holder.
About two-thirds of “Endangered Species” is quite good. The buildup portion is engrossing, as it sets the stage for this story and also digs into the characters’ thoughts in early Season 3. And even the rushed conclusion is not unreadable. Still, I bet even the authors would admit they didn’t have time to smooth out the rough edges of this narrative.