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

With “Buffy” and “Angel” on different networks, massive crossovers weren’t in the works on TV, but “Monster Island” (March 2003), by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski, rectifies that. Not surprisingly, the mixing of the two character groups leads to continuity errors (more on that later). Most of the novel, set in the early part of “Buffy” Season 6 and “Angel” Season 3, is good reading, although it has the usual problem in the “epic” novels of ending with a long, overblown battle.

One of the pleasures of the two groups teaming up is the points-of-view of characters observing how people have changed since the last time they saw them, such as Buffy observing Cordelia’s organizational abilities and Wesley’s confidence. The Scoobies and Angel Investigations meld together nicely; for example, Buffy, Angel and Gunn fight together as a unit. Ultimately, everyone assembles on the titular demon-sanctuary island of Questral, which is magically hidden. This is a different island from the one in “Angel: Endangered Species,” although it’s easy to get them mixed up.

Ultimately to their credit, Golden and Sniegoski don’t hold back from big things happening, like when Spike rescues Angel from being burnt to a crisp by the rising sun because Spike the only one who can make it through a magical barrier that keeps out “the living.” In the abstract, it seems like this should fundamentally change the Angel-Spike relationship now that Angel owes Spike his life. The authors buy this back, barely, by illustrating Angel’s jealousy of Spike’s position in Buffy’s inner circle as the two vampires recover from their burn injuries. Spike saving his life just gets added to the list of Angel’s reasons to be annoyed with Spike.

Another major moment finds Tara using dark magic to cause all supernatural creatures in the vicinity to fight each other. This leads to demon deaths, and to the unintended consequence of Buffy and Angel turning on each other until Tara can reverse the spell. Tara’s actions here are noteworthy because not long after this, Willow starts to overuse dark magic to Tara’s chagrin. On the TV show, I never got the sense that Tara herself had used dark magic, so “Monster Island” changes how those conversations between the witch girlfriends play.

On a related note, we learn that Elijah – the bookseller introduced in Golden’s and Sniegoski’s Dark Horse “Angel” comics – refuses to use offensive magic (he uses it for defense only) because he used to be addicted. This foreshadows Willow’s situation in early Season 7 when she is hesitant to use magic again.

Despite being deceased, Doyle is an absent center in “Monster Island” because the villain is Axtius, Doyle’s Brachen demon father. This situation calls to mind Giles facing his vampire father in Golden’s “Buffy” novel “Sins of the Father,” although it’s a fake-out in that case. (Incidentally, Calvin – a young friend of Gunn’s – must face his vampire father in a side thread in “Monster Island.”) Although not in league with the Scourge (the villains who kill Doyle), Axtius shares that group’s goal of killing all half-breeds. He hates Angel for “getting Doyle killed,” which initially seems like a sign of deep confusion on Axtius’ part, but the authors explain that Axtius had hoped to use magic to make Doyle into a full-blooded demon.

“Monster Island” is a page-turner up until everyone is assembled on Questral, but the last 62 pages are filled with a big island-wide battle. Passages like these have never been my favorite parts of Buffyverse books. One mildly interesting moment occurs when Buffy is briefly possessed by a demon. The same thing happens to her in the Season 3 novel “Blooded,” but the authors don’t make that connection, even though Golden co-authored that book.

“Monster Island” features the most tangled web of continuity glitches since the days when Golden and Nancy Holder were writing “Buffy” Season 3 novels while Season 3 was airing. There’s no excuse for the biggest one: Cordelia references visiting Elijah in Golden’s short story from “The Longest Night,” but although that story was written first, it takes place a few months after this one. Erasing that reference wouldn’t solve the problem, because Elijah dies in “Monster Island.”

The other problems come up because the whole Scooby Gang and whole Angel Investigations crew meet each other here, but the canonical materials would not take this into account. Surprisingly, the meeting between Willow and Fred in “Orpheus” (“Angel” 4.15) almost sounds like they’ve met before:

Fred: “Hi Willow.”

Willow (walks up to Fred): “Hey Fred. It’s good to see you.”

But “Just Rewards” (“Angel” 5.2) proves that the TV writers don’t care about the tie-in materials, as Gunn, Fred and Lorne are clearly meeting Spike for the first time, despite having fought side-by-side with him in “Monster Island.”

In one case, the authors give a nice nod to continuity. When assembling their forces, Buffy suggests breaking Faith out of jail, and Wesley notes that they recently did that (probably a reference to “Endangered Species”) and the prison is therefore on high alert. (Interestingly, Faith also breaks out around this time to appear in the “Buffy” novel “Chaos Bleeds.”)

In the end, “Monster Island” has an odd status: It feels accurate as a portrayal of how the Sunnydale and L.A. groups would interact … but as far as the TV series are concerned, the interactions didn’t actually happen.

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

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