For 21 years, from 1998’s short story “Maguffins” through 2018’s Joss Whedon-penned “The Reckoning,” Buffyverse stories unspooled in comic books – with Buffy always having a home at Dark Horse and Angel and Spike making a brief foray over to IDW in the middle years. For most of this time, four-color “Buffy” and “Angel” stories were fans’ lone source of further adventures.
From 1997’s “Halloween Rain” through 2008’s “One Thing or Your Mother” — and with the bonus of Kiersten White’s “Slayer” duology in recent years — the Buffyverse tie-in novels gave us a way to escape into the world of Slayers and vampires between WB New Tuesdays and after the shows went off the air. But with nearly 100 original “Buffy” and “Angel” novels out there (more if you count novelizations of episodes), it can be intimidating to figure out where to start.
It takes some getting used to, I admit, but eventually I got on a roll with Nina the Vampire Slayer in Kiersten White’s second Buffyverse novel, “Chosen” (January, hardcover). I should’ve braced myself for it after having read last year’s “Slayer,” but first-person present-tense writing is unusual enough that it’s still like getting a bucket of cold water to the face when you crack the book open.
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.