‘Buffy’/‘Angel’ flashback: ‘Cursed’ (2003) (Book review)

“Cursed” (November 2003) is a rare novel with “Buffy” in the title that doesn’t have Buffy in it (aside from a phone conversation on the last page). This “Buffy”/“Angel” crossover by Mel Odom is truly a “Spike”/“Angel” crossover, and a good one (despite a big continuity problem I’ll get to later). I never tire of tales of Angelus, Darla, Spike and Dru cutting swaths of terror across Europe, and “Cursed” is a prime entry in that subgenre, while also bringing Angel and Spike together in present day.

Odom builds upon Spike being dumped by Buffy in “As You Were” (“Buffy” 6.15), and his moneymaking scheme in that episode expands into this book’s plot. Spike gets into debt to a loan shark, so he signs on for a heist in Los Angeles to make some money. This is all about Spike’s perspective on his relationship with Buffy. He thinks he can win her back, perhaps by landing a payday and helping her out financially. He fantasizes about holding the warm Buffy in his arms. It’s tragic, because Buffy can’t get past seeing him as a monster, but we know Spike is driven by love. The TV series does an excellent job illustrating this, considering that Spike is a supporting player and Buffy is the title character, but Odom leans into it even more.

Meanwhile for Angel, all his dangerous missions seem more dangerous now because baby Connor is in his life. This is more of an “Angel” novel than a “Buffy” novel in the sense that it takes place in LA and the whole Angel Investigations gang plays a part. But in the backstory, Angelus plays the role of villain to Spike’s hero, relatively speaking. Spike loves the gypsy Lyanka – Odom hedges his bets on whether she uses a love spell or not – during a time when Dru is shunning him. Angelus, meanwhile, accepts gold from rival gypsy Chavula Faa to rat out Lyanka; Faa then tracks her down, and Spike is unable to save her.

Odom does a nice job of peppering this 1887-93 tale throughout the novel, and having those revelations run parallel to Faa’s and Lyanka’s present-day activities, where Faa is trying to acquire seven magic stones and Lyanka is trying to stop him. Lyanka is a ghost, trying to influence Spike to do the right thing, while her granddaughter, Gitana, has an uneasy alliance with Angel against Faa.

Despite the title and the presence of gypsies, “Cursed” isn’t about Angel’s happiness curse. Odom suggests Lyanka might’ve cursed Spike and Angelus upon her death, attaching their fates to the stone she possessed. But broadly, I suppose it’s about Spike being cursed with a big heart and Angel being cursed by his past.

Heist-story fans should appreciate the way Spike and his demon allies infiltrate a fortified mansion (vampires don’t set off heat sensors), and it’s amusing how Wolfram & Hart has its tentacles in this case. While “Angel” has several scenes of Angel popping into Lilah’s office and threatening her, “Cursed” delivers such a scene from Lilah’s perspective, which is entertaining; she’s terrified, but has learned how to not show it.

At times, the pace bogs down with fight scenes (including one in a warehouse that’s very similar to a sequence from Odom’s “Buffy” novel “Revenant”) and descriptions of the rules of the magic stones, but we’re never far away from meaty passages digging into characters. In addition to the Spike-Lyanka stuff, there’s good Angel stuff too, including a chapter where Angelus is getting his fortune told by Lyanka.

For those interested in continuity, “Cursed” is a mess – but not by contradicting the TV shows. It takes place when Connor is a baby but before Wesley takes him away, and after Buffy dumps Spike. So it’s during “Angel” Season 3, episodes 11-14, and right after “As You Were” (“Buffy” 6.15). While these episode numbers don’t line up, the “Buffy” and “Angel” episodes don’t necessarily take place in exactly the same week as their counterpart, so there is a window when “Cursed” can take place.

The problem is that “Cursed” contradicts other novels. In 1893, Spike wonders what it would be like to face a Slayer (after being annoyed that Angelus, Darla and Dru took so long to inform him about the existence of Slayers). But in 1888, in the Jack the Ripper story “Blood and Fog” (May 2003), he had already encountered one. More jarring is that Spike and the Angel Investigations gang (namely Wesley, Gunn, Fred and Lorne) are meeting each other for the first time here. But they had already met in “Monster Island” (March 2003), which is set earlier in “Angel” Season 3/“Buffy” Season 6. (They then meet for the first time for a third time at the start of “Angel” Season 5, which we had seen on TV shortly before this book came out.)

So “Monster Island” and “Cursed” are alternate takes on the Angel-Spike relationship between “In the Dark” (“Angel” 1.3) and “Just Rewards” (5.2), when Spike joins the cast, initially in ghost form. “Monster Island” quickly finds Spike saving Angel’s life, so that quells their mutual antagonism over the course of the book. Also, Angel wonders if Spike is romantically involved with Buffy, but the authors don’t dig into it.

I prefer the approach of “Cursed.” Angel flat-out hates Spike’s guts, for many reasons but notably the fact that Spike viciously tortured him the last time they met, in “In the Dark.” For his part, Spike is frustrated that Angel won’t work with him, blames him for the death of Lyanka, and is somewhat fearful of what would happen if Angel found out about him and Buffy. “I heard you were with Buffy,” Angel says on page 412, a statement that inspires panic in Spike. Luckily, it turns out Angel is merely referring to Spike working with the Scooby Gang. Ultimately, Angel and Spike have to work together against Chavula Faa, and the author nails this sequence, which draws upon a strategy they used in the old days.

I’m more of a Buffy-Angel guy than a Buffy-Spike guy, but in “Cursed,” I sympathize more with Spike. Odom pens a strong novel about how Spike is love’s bitch, and while he’s not always man enough to admit it when Lyanka’s ghost hounds him about it, it does make him endearing.

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

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