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

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s he did with his only other “Buffy” novel, “Coyote Moon” (1998), John Vornholt gives a different – and not precisely right, but still intriguing – feel to the Buffyverse with the “Buffy”/“Angel” crossover “Seven Crows” (July 2003). The continuity glitch is less forgivable this time. Vornholt wrote “Coyote Moon,” set in the summer after Season 1, before he knew Buffy goes to LA for the summer. “Seven Crows” is set in the late summer before Season 7, but Buffy inexplicably already holds her guidance counselor job in summer school.

Later, Riley’s wife Sam is revealed to be pregnant, something that is not referenced in the couple’s canonical comic-book appearances. While Buffy does reflect on Dawn’s well-being from time to time, Vornholt pens a younger, more carefree version of Buffy – one who is trying to wring some vacation-style activities out of this mission. Angel is a bit off, too. In addition to not reflecting on recent events – notably, being buried at the ocean floor by his son – he is flirty with Buffy, which is out of character.

Rather than working on any of this in the editing stage, the editors fall back on this “historian’s note”: “This story takes place in an alternate ‘Buffy’ seventh season timeline.” Well, at least they are being honest about how it doesn’t fit with the TV shows’ continuity.

While Buffy does reflect on Dawn’s well-being from time to time, Vornholt pens a younger, more carefree version of Buffy – one who is trying to wring a vacation out of this mission.

All that having been said, I enjoyed reading “Seven Crows.” Vornholt gives us something the TV series didn’t: Buffy, Angel, Riley and Sam teamed up on a mission, with no other members of the Scooby Gang or Angel Investigations. The group dynamics are fun.

I like the Finns a lot in “Seven Crows.” Vornholt says they work for an “organization” based out of Washington, DC. While he’s fine with making Sam pregnant, he for some reason doesn’t want to tiptoe into what the Initiative has morphed into. On this mission along the Arizona-Mexico border, it’s Riley’s and Sam’s field tactics and experience that rule the day; it’s neat to see them in their element, and to see Angel and Buffy as supporting players, being paid for their assistance.

The money will help their financial situations, but “Seven Crows” also needs to serve up a big enough threat to pull Buffy and Angel away from the towns they’ve sworn to protect. Whether it succeeds is debatable, but Vornholt starts with an engaging “X-Files”-type hook. A vampire gang has inserted itself into the black markets of smuggling humans across the border and trafficking drugs through tunnels. Indeed, the opening chapter about desperate migrants could’ve easily appeared in a non-Buffyverse book. Such stories were timely in 2003, and are of particular interest now with the border having become highly politicized.

Amusingly, considering the Danny Trejo films that would follow, one of the vampire leaders is named Machete, so naturally I pictured him with a catcher’s-mitt face and a mustache. We also get a legitimate businessman with vested interests in the area and an ageless skin-walker sheriff. The plot moves too slowly, but it remains pleasurable to follow our heroic foursome as they investigate the threads, particularly when Sam and Angel go undercover into Mexican dive bars to gather information. Rekindled feelings between Buffy and Riley, or Buffy and Angel, are the obvious routes, so it’s amusing to get Sam’s inner thoughts about the charms of Angel.

We do get some of Buffy and Angel longing for what they used to have. Granted, heartbreak can come back unchanged in a surprise reunion like this, but I would’ve thought there’d be more nuance just because people like Dawn and Connor are now central in their respective lives. Also, Buffy and Angel cross paths so much in the spinoff materials that their meeting probably shouldn’t be as big a deal as the author makes it.

I wouldn’t have minded a spinoff series where Vornholt develops the organization Riley and Sam work for and tells “X-Files”-ish yarns starring the Finns. Ideally, I’d want Buffy and Angel to be called in as special consultants in every story, which makes it tricky from a continuity perspective, but plausible in the time of “Angel” Season 5, when the “Buffy” story is between Seasons 7 and 8. The concept of government or corporate groups fighting evil demons would later be touched on in the “Buffy” comics, with Faith and Kennedy taking such jobs, but I would’ve liked more of Riley and Sam doing their thing.

“Seven Crows” doesn’t fit with the canonical timeline, and Vornholt’s grasp of where Buffy and Angel are at in their lives feels shallow. But the novel is an intriguing peak at a path not taken, and at Buffy and Angel venturing outside their comfort zones.

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