The Deathless” (May 2007) might not rank No. 1 among all Buffyverse books – although it deserves consideration – but it’s definitely the best book that fits snugly into the TV show’s continuity. Author Keith R.A. DeCandido — who also wrote the excellent Nikki Wood tale “Blackout” – writes in his introduction that there was room for a story between “The Zeppo” (3.13) and “Bad Girls” (3.14) because the Scoobies are in rough shape at the end of the former and healed at the beginning of the latter. “The Deathless” can be considered episode 3.13.5 not only because it fits there, but also because it’s good enough to be a “Buffy” episode.
DeCandido, whose work on “The Xander Years, Vol. 1” was no doubt good practice, has a natural feel for how these characters talk, and he’s better than any other Buffyverse author at nailing the show’s wry sense of humor. Notably, Principal Snyder takes the podium at the Ring Day ceremony, where seniors who can afford it pick up their Sunnydale High rings. Among the highlights on page 103 is: “I just wanted to say to all of you, congratulations on doing at least one thing right in your misbegotten careers as students.” I can hear actor Armin Shimerman delivering this whole speech.
Another amusing running joke is that – until she learns the details of this latest mystery — Buffy goes with the assumption that there’s another praying mantis on the loose since a vampire is scared of a particular house. It’s not only a callback to “Teacher’s Pet” (1.3), but also a wink at the nature of fictional storytelling wherein our characters aren’t likely to encounter exactly the same situation twice, as it would be redundant for readers.
The author smoothly uses humor to resolve the question of how this story’s kidnapping victims, who lose a day’s worth of memories, deal with what happened. Harmony and Cordelia blame it on the weird stuff Buffy’s always involved in, while Xander assumes he has been possessed yet again. Other students resolve to get the heck out of town after graduation, since weird stuff is always happening in Sunnydale. It ties nicely into the notion in “The Prom” (3.20) that the students are vaguely aware of what Buffy does, but they don’t talk about it all day.
“The Deathless” has nice touches of continuity within the book line, in addition to the TV series. In chapter 14, Faith thinks about her former Watcher and her martial arts instructor, both of whom were introduced in “Go Ask Malice: A Slayer’s Diary.” And in a nice callback, Faith reveals to the gang that Xander saved her bacon in “The Zeppo”; to his relief, she leaves out what happened next.
The author uses Michael as a supporting character and shows that the Goth magic-user is fairly well versed in what the Scoobies do. Buffy even flat-out tells Michael that Angel is a vampire. He’s essentially upgraded to a second-string Scooby here, like what Amy might’ve been if she hadn’t turned bad. It works fine, especially considering that Michael also is central to the Season 2 novel “Bad Bargain” and “Gingerbread” (3.11), which is surprisingly his only TV appearance.
For the supernatural visitor of the week, DeCandido taps into Russian folklore and uses Baba Yaga, although this magically-imbued immortal witch is a far cry from John Wick. Also in the mix is Bulat the Brave, another Russian immortal. Bulat’s backstory is nicely written in the matter-of-fact style of old fables, and his ultimate goal is surprising and unlike anything I can recall from other stories.
The author doesn’t overwrite the climactic magic spell, instead focusing on what matters to the characters in this final showdown – particularly Bulat. The focus on what’s unique, rather that what’s necessary but familiar, is a trait of the TV series (“The Zeppo” takes this narrative approach to the extreme) but it usually doesn’t carry over to the books like it does here.
My review of “The Deathless” is a praise-fest, but it really is that strong. It feels like a Season 3 episode in book form – an episode of lesser importance to the overall narrative, unavoidably, since it is written after the fact. But tie-in fiction can’t be done much better. It’s too bad DeCandido only wrote two original “Buffy” novels, because his knowledge of how to do it is unparalleled.