‘Buffy’ flashback: ‘Queen of the Slayers’ (2005) (Book review)

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ancy Holder gives extra care and attention to “Queen of the Slayers” (May 2005), writing it as if it’s the canonical followup to “Buffy” Season 7, taking place simultaneously with “Angel” Season 5. A lot of what she writes would later be contradicted (and a lot of it repurposed/borrowed) for Joss Whedon’s canonical “Buffy” Season 8-12 comics. But “Queen of the Slayers” still holds up as a smart, legitimate interpretation of what could’ve happened; indeed, if the continuity contradictions were removed, this book could stand as a worthy “Season 7.5.”

Holder runs with the information from “The Girl in Question” (“Angel” 5.20) that Buffy is dating the Immortal in Italy and combines that with the fact that there are thousands of newly minted Slayers throughout the world who need to be wrangled. A little more than two years later, “Buffy” Season 8 would turn the whole Immortal thing into a joke, revealing in “A Long Way Home” that one of Buffy’s decoys was dating the Immortal.

Additionally, Holder assumes that the bomb that destroys the Watchers Council headquarters in “Never Leave Me” (“Buffy” 7.9) – along with The First hunting down individual Watchers – does not spell the end of the Watchers. Interestingly, her hunch would be proven right, but not until this year with the first canonical spinoff novel, “Slayer.” That book, set after Season 8, reveals a small cadre of Watchers in hiding. However, the “Buffy” comics proceeded with the notion that the Watchers have been wiped out.

“Queen of the Slayers” is a smart, legitimate interpretation of what could’ve happened; if the continuity contradictions were removed, this book could stand as a worthy “Season 7.5.”

I can craft apologia for both of these “mistakes” by Holder. It makes sense that Buffy and her close allies would need help from the Immortal and the Watchers during this transitional time before she’s leading loyal armies of Slayers in Season 8 – not because she and her friends are weak, but because the global logistics are unlike anything they’ve experienced. If nothing else, the Watchers and the Immortal provide housing and food for the new Slayers.

Holder doesn’t do anything new with the Watchers; indeed, she describes the new leader, Lord Ambrose-Bellairs, as a younger version of Quentin Travers. But the Immortal is a strong character. Buffy doesn’t want to trust him, but he keeps doing things to gain her trust (plus, naturally, he’s hot).

“Queen of the Slayers” takes place between the end of “Chosen” (“Buffy” 7.22) and the end of “Not Fade Away” (“Angel” 5.22), and plays quite well as a “season” – somewhat like a “Harry Potter” book. Holder had practice at writing in a year-long timeframe with the adaptation of Season 7, titled “Chosen: The One,” two years prior.

Not everything affects everything else narratively. “Queen” begins with a road-trip drama as the weary gang flees the destruction of Sunnydale and runs into “Britney the Vampire Slayer,” who turns out to be a shapeshifter. That’s a one-off adventure, but it does thematically illustrate that our heroes will have their hands full dealing with new Slayers, many (maybe even most) of whom won’t smoothly and effortlessly take to their calling. We also see the psychologically damaged Dana in “Damage” (“Angel” 5.11) – she’s briefly referenced in “Queen” – and the comics feature a group of rogue Slayers led by Simone.

While “Queen” doesn’t hook up with the comics, it provides plausible reasons for why a faction of Slayers splits off. Already, some are resenting the fact that they were called as Slayers (and they know Buffy was behind this), and more specifically the fact that many Slayers are dying in Cleveland, where Faith and Robin Wood are attempting to close a Hellmouth. Some simply reject their calling (Buffy allows them to leave of their own free will), but others team up with the villainous schemers of this piece, fronted by Antonio Borgia and Ornella the Vampire Slayer.

This being a Holder novel, the backstory of the villains is epic in scope, and often very good reading. “Queen” gets overstuffed on the good guys’ side of the ledger, though, as the author throws in various maguffins and monkey wrenches that require Xander to travel to Africa to meet the ghost of the First Slayer, Buffy and company to go to the Amazon rainforest to acquire a flower, and the gang to go to Tibet to meet a monk. This is all for the sake of saving the life of Dawn, who has suddenly fallen ill, a thread that would be resurrected in the Season 9 comics.

In Tibet, Oz links up with the story, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but this also leads to the third major continuity contradiction. Here, Oz is one of a group of werewolves protecting the Golden One. Although she doesn’t flat-out contradict “Oz: Into the Wild,” Holder misses an opportunity to tie in elements from that novel/comic. Season 8’s “Retreat” would later overwrite Oz’s adventures in both “Into the Wild” and “Queen,” establishing that Oz has nice family life with a wife and baby.

Your mileage will vary with the climactic events, wherein Holder ties in “Queen’s” big battle with the cliffhanger of “Not Fade Away,” albeit in a way where Angel and company don’t know they are playing into this story. For fans obsessed with the “Angel or Spike?” question, it’s either a cop-out or clever that Holder’s answer is “both.” Buffy has a magical supernatural baby with Angel and Spike, and the author pontificates on a better world beyond Earth on page 323:

It was no longer about Earthly yearnings and joys and despairs. It was not about choices. … There are other, better places for those who do good. There are other, better ways to love.

There’s no doubt Holder is trying to write the definitive “Season 8,” as she at one point has Buffy describe Gunn (who she sees in a vision of the “Not Fade Away” events) as a stranger, even though Holder herself wrote scenes of Buffy and Gunn fighting together in the “Unseen” trilogy. Lucy Hanover and the Ghost Roads – among Holder’s major contributions to the mythos — are briefly mentioned in “Queen,” but I get the sense that she’s staying away from book lore and focusing on TV show lore.

All told, “Queen of the Slayers” is Holder’s best “Buffy” book so far (one more, 2006’s “Carnival of Souls,” will follow). Although it has a remnant of the usual Holder problems wherein the ending is overblown and trivializes some threads from earlier, it’s obvious that she’s on the right path, since the canonical works would later explore most of these same notions. In a way, the book probably benefits from being non-canonical, as it can be enjoyed today as a fascinating path not (quite) taken.

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