In the early days of the “Buffy” books, the series released just a handful of Season 1-2 novels before staking out Season 3 as its primary storytelling ground. With the book series still popular enough to stay afloat after the end of the TV series, and with rumblings of Joss Whedon continuing the narrative someday in comics, the publishers made the smart decision to set most of the new books in Season 2. The first of these is “Afterimage” (January 2006), in which author Pierce Askegren walks the fine line of crafting a yarn that fits in Season 2 but keeps it small enough that we understand why the events aren’t referenced elsewhere – like “Bad Eggs” (2.12) in scope, but better in quality.
In the early days of the “Buffy” novels, we got the points of view of supporting characters – as well as a chance to revisit episodes prior to syndication and home video – in series such as “The Angel Chronicles,” “The Xander Years” and “The Willow Files.” Diana G. Gallagher’s “Spark and Burn” (July 2005) brings back that format, and attempts to spice it up, as Spike wallows in the Sunnydale High basement in early Season 7. As he’s harassed by The First, he thinks back on the events of Season 2, when he enters Buffy’s sphere.
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child give Agent Pendergast a fresh start of sorts in his 18th novel, “Verses for the Dead” (December, hardcover). Series like the Constance trilogy and the Helen trilogy are conclusions to long-simmering threads, and the standalone before this one, “City of Endless Night,” is a nostalgic team-up for Pendergast and D’Agosta. But in “Verses for the Dead,” Pendergast gets a new FBI partner, Coldmoon, and he deals with office politics regarding his future with the bureau. Although the authors occasionally reference Pendergast’s death-like pallor, it’s clear he’s not interested in retirement. And his exploits in the action-packed final chapters show he hasn’t lost much vigor.
Nancy 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.”
Jeff Mariotte probably didn’t know “Love and Death” (October 2004) would be the last “Angel” novel when he wrote it, but it plays pretty well since it has that status. By Season 4, when this book is set, the likelihood that the general public doesn’t know about vampires and demons was starting to be stretched thin, and “Love and Death” directly addresses this through Night Country radio host Mac Lindley, who encourages his loyal listeners to go to L.A. and kill monsters.
As she did with “Buffy: These Our Actors” (2002), co-written with Dori Koogler, Ashely McConnell writes an “Angel” novel – “Book of the Dead” (July 2004) — that makes me wish she wrote more than two Buffyverse books. Unlike most of the tie-in authors, McConnell isn’t shy about building on the established mythology. “These Our Actors,” which continued the Spike and Cecily story, later got contradicted by the TV series and comics, but “Book of the Dead” hasn’t yet been contradicted, and it therefore stands as a rare window into Wesley’s time at the Watchers’ Academy.
John Passarella completes a solid three-for-three among Buffyverse novels with “Angel: Monolith” (June 2004). As with “Buffy: Ghoul Trouble” (2000) and “Angel: Avatar” (2001), this is a rock-solid effort with on-point characterization, accurate continuity, a decent sense of mystery and committed action writing. It doesn’t offer any plot surprises, which is why it doesn’t rise to the level of elite Buffyverse novels, but it’s completely respectable.
There was never an “Angel” young-adult book line, but Craig Shaw Gardner’s “Dark Mirror” (April 2004) gives a sense of what those books would be like. This is a simplified view of the Angelverse without much interest in continuity or accurate characterizations, and with a cartoonishly big evil that’s hard to take seriously.
Scott and Denise Ciencin deliver another messy yet surprisingly enjoyable page-turner with “Angel: Nemesis” (February 2004), their final work in the Buffyverse. Similar to the couple’s other co-written novel, “Buffy: Mortal Fear” (2003), the ideas here are wildly imaginative and the characterizations don’t feel entirely correct, but there’s never any sense that they are phoning it in. Clearly, they love telling stories and their enthusiasm is contagious.
I’ll say this for Nancy Holder’s “Heat” (June 2004), the seventh and last of the “Buffy”/ “Angel” crossover novels: It’s certainly ambitious. This 456-page beast reads like “War and Peace” or “Lord of the Rings,” something with a hugely epic scope and a deep roster of characters. While there is some appeal to that, it’s apparent that Holder – who has written some great Buffyverse novels – bites off more than she can chew this time.