Angel: Vengeance” (August 2002) really grew on me as the story goes along. Scott Ciencin had previously written the uneven “Buffy: Sweet Sixteen” and co-writer Dan Jolley is making his Buffyverse debut, but “Vengeance” ultimately comes together as an entertaining portrayal of Angel’s inner struggle, while also giving a nice side plot to Cordelia and the underused David Nabbit.
The main thrust of the Season 2-set “Vengeance” is a riff on the ring from “Lord of the Rings” (which, to their credit, the authors do name-drop via the nerdy Nabbit). “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” — wherein Harry, Ron and Hermione are influenced by a Horcrux — also comes to mind, although that hit shelves five years after this book.
A powerful artifact called the Serpent’s Hand has a literal grip on Angel’s heart and a psychological grip on his mind. Briefly, I thought “Ugh, Angel is so out of character,” but once I realized what was going on, it actually became fun to read, and it explained all of his out-of-character notions such as wanting to rid the Earth of demons (despite the fact that he knows many good demons, including The Host).
“Vengeance” is one of those books that does insane things to the main characters, but as a reader we rest assured things will be set straight by the final page. Angel’s situation is the least of it. Gunn is turned into a monster with three mouths and Cordelia gets a huge scar across her face. (Wesley is in the book, but spends a lot of his time as a captive of the villain.)
The Cordy stuff is interesting, as she reflects on what her life will be like without being pretty, and it’s cool to see David (who was memorably played by “Office Space’s” David Herman) still being totally into her. A Cordy-David relationship sputtered on the TV show, as he faded away after three appearances in Seasons 1 and 2, so this thread inevitably peters out too: I guess Cordy’s not ready to go the nerd route (again), although she is never cruel in her romantic rejection of David.
“Vengeance” is overstuffed, but many of Ciencin’s and Jolley’s concepts do land, and I would’ve liked to see them continued in other books. There’s a vast underground lair in L.A. filled with demons and human societal outcasts who respect Angel because he had helped many of them in the past. The sorcerer Coronach enters the picture to help against the villain, Lilith. Wolfram & Hart’s involvement is a nice touch, too. One of the overstuffed elements is a gang of demons hired by Wolfram & Hart that trails behind Angel on his mission.
The concept behind Lilith is neat: She is the first woman, created by God before Adam created Eve via his rib. Feeling spurned, she seeks out 1,000 “perfect” (as in perfectly evil) souls that will help her wipe humanity from Earth. While the concept is solid, and I don’t even mind her personality – which includes trades of taunts with Bizarro Angel – the authors spend too many words on our heroes trying to decipher Lilith’s mission. It’s ultimately clunky when a human character rejects their “perfect evil” for goodness, thus giving this person the traits to take on Lilith.
I can tell this is the first collaboration between Ciencin and Jolley, and that both are new to “Angel,” but “Vengeance” works because they are committed to and inspired by the material. By going all out, they sometimes go too far, but – boosted by their style of ending most chapters on cliffhangers – I found “Vengeance” to be a sneaky-good page-turner.