‘Buffy’ flashback: ‘Bad Bargain’ (2006) (Book review)

D

iana G. Gallagher’s works rank in the middle of the pack among “Buffy” authors, but they are often interesting for how she puts new spins on the continuity without contradicting what’s established. “Bad Bargain” (December 2006), the short but flat YA-style novel that’s the last of her five “Buffy” books, fits the mold. Like most of the 2005-08 novels, it’s set in mid-Season 2 before the rise of Angelus, but Gallagher weaves in elements the TV show’s writers couldn’t at the time, in an attempt to strengthen the overall continuity.

As several students and teachers get trapped at Sunnydale High amid an infestation of Hellmouth critters coming from the basement, Oz notices Willow from a distance and later Xander tells her on page 191, “I think Oz likes you.” This recalls Anya showing interest in Xander before the TV show gets to it in Gallagher’s Season 3-set “Prime Evil,” although in this case the author is piggybacking on Oz’s “Who is that girl?” line from “Halloween” (2.6).

“Bad Bargain” would probably play better if it wasn’t so similar to “School Hard,” what with everyone trapped in the school during a fundraiser.

Meanwhile, Jonathan and Andrew chase each other through the halls with a whip, “Indiana Jones”-style. While Jonathan was on the show at this point, Andrew was not, so Gallagher is the first author to retcon him into an earlier appearance. Arguably, this undercuts the idea that Jonathan is a lonely kid who discovers the friendship of Andrew and Warren a couple years after graduation. This also puts Gallagher on a different page than Pierce Askegren, whose “Afterimage” – set around the same time – finds Xander inviting the loner Jonathan to a drive-in film festival. Instead, Gallagher paints Andrew and Jonathan as loners together. As Jonathan thinks on page 126:

If Andrew moved away or got mad and stopped hanging out with him or died, he wouldn’t have anybody. That was the fate he dreaded most. He’d rather die than be alone.

The most amusing new narrative connection is that Mayor Wilkins plans to come to the school’s rummage sale to purchase a piece of black jade called Endless Night. In a fun bit of irony, Buffy smashes the piece amid the chaos, thinking it might be part of the problem. Thus, by accident, the Mayor doesn’t acquire an artifact he might’ve wanted for the purposes of his Ascension.

“Bad Bargain” would probably play better if it wasn’t so similar to “School Hard” (2.3), what with everyone trapped in the school during a fundraiser, and Buffy and friends having to do their thing without alerting Joyce and others about the supernatural element.

Also, the threat is more weird than interesting, although it is certainly deadly, with little – sometimes even microscopic — Hellmouth creatures gradually sucking the life out of people. Cordelia is decomposing, Harmony is aging and Xander is being squeezed to death by a vest. Others are controlled by psychic creatures: Jonathan and Andrew by an eel creature on the whip, and Willow by a cuddly fuzzball she names Cutie.

Despite being only 192 pages, “Bad Bargain” doesn’t move quickly. It has early appeal via the simple nature of a rummage sale in the school cafeteria, similar to the vibe Gallagher strikes with the sidewalk art fair in “Doomsday Deck.” But it starts to feel redundant after many scenes of the Scoobies rummaging through clothes, the Cordettes sifting through jewelry and the nerds searching through action figures – although (unlikely as it is) I do like the wish-fulfillment notion that Jonathan finds a mint-on-card 1978 Walrus Man.

Gallagher briefly taps into that nostalgic, innocent Season 2 spirit, but there’s ultimately not enough story or insights into the Scoobies in “Bad Bargain” (although it probably plays quite well for junior-level readers). It has a few interesting touches for “Buffy” continuity geeks, but overall this one goes back into the bargain bin as a forgettable entry in the line.

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