When “Angel” premiered on Oct. 5, 1999, with “City of,” it was nominally a darker, more adult show than “Buffy,” its parent series and Tuesday night lead-in on The WB. But today, at the tail end of a decade of grim television (“prestige” though it may be), it’s notable how many smiles and laughs are to be found in even the most heart-wrenching hours of “Angel.”
Ironically, the “Buffy” book line ends its 1997-2008 run with a couple of firsts: “One Thing or Your Mother” (March 2008) is the debut entry from Kirsten Beyer, and the first novel set during the Angelus arc of Season 2. That’s surprising at first blush, but in retrospect it’s understandable why tie-in writers had stayed away from this period that’s so perfectly chronicled by the TV show (along with one comic tie-in, “Ring of Fire,” although even that is by a TV writer, Doug Petrie).
In the penultimate “Buffy” book from the original run, Christopher Golden takes a noble stab at linking the books up with Joss Whedon’s comics (which started in March 2007) in “Dark Congress” (August 2007). That part doesn’t quite work, but it’s a strong story in its own right, and most notably, Golden allows a goodbye between Willow and Tara that was stolen from them by Warren’s stray bullet in Season 6.
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.
Diana 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.
With all the possibilities for Buffy to meet past Slayers introduced in “Tales of the Slayer” and the TV series itself, the time-travel adventure “Portal Through Time” (October 2006) should be a lot better than it is. But Alice Henderson, in her only Buffyverse work in the main novel line (she also wrote “Night Terrors” in the “Stake Your Destiny” series), writes in a basic YA style wherein the author’s plotting needs override the Scoobies’ decision-making, thematic statements and even storytelling logic.
Keith R.A. DeCandido, who wrote the solid “Serenity” novelization, checks into the Buffyverse with the series’ most heavily researched novel in terms of real-world details. It’s clear “Blackout” (August 2006) is close to the heart of the author. He lived in New York City as a kid in July 1977, the same time as the real-world 25-hour blackout and looting, and the time of the fictional showdown between Nikki Wood the Vampire Slayer and Spike.
It’s probably too strong of a statement to say Robert Joseph Levy’s “Go Ask Malice: A Slayer’s Diary” (June 2006) is the best Faith story. There’s no question it stands on the shoulders of the work done by “Buffy” and “Angel” TV writers and actress Eliza Dushku. But the book allows us to go deeper than ever before into the psyche of Faith, quite a change from the early days of “Buffy” books when the character was totally off limits.
Nancy Holder’s status as an elite Buffyverse author was already secured, but disappointingly – especially considering she’s coming off the outstanding “Queen of the Slayers” (2005) — she wraps up her run with the forgettable “Carnival of Souls” (April 2006). This Season 2-set novel calls to mind John Vornholt’s “Coyote Moon” (1998), which has some problems but more evocatively portrays the colorful mood of a carnival than this book does. It also makes me think of Holder’s excellent first adult “Buffy” novel, “Child of the Hunt” (1998, co-written with Christopher Golden), wherein a pack of roving demons comes to town during a Renaissance fair, like a twisted version of a traveling carnival.
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.