It’s like an all-star writing contest when Yvonne Navarro, Mel Odom, Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder get together to write four novellas for “Tales of the Slayer, Vol. 3” (November 2003). At this point in my reread, they are four of the five best Buffyverse writers (with Jeff Mariotte filling the other spot). Here are my rankings of their contributions in this third “Tales” volume:
Nancy Holder’s “Blood and Fog” (May 2003) starts off with a delicious premise for fans of both “Buffy” and history, as Jack the Ripper enters the Slayer’s sphere. But like the 2002 “Angel” novel “Endangered Species,” co-written by Holder, the last third of the book totally falls apart; it’s filled with copy-editing errors and reads like it was delivered to the publisher minutes before being typeset for the press.
It’d be cool to read an “Angel” book of 12 short stories that each take place in one hour on the longest night of the year. “The Longest Night” (December 2002), unfortunately, isn’t that book. It claims to be that book on the back cover blurb, but the editors never told the writers. So the gang can be beat up or covered in demon goo the end of one hour and healthy and clean at the start of the next, for example.
In the first “Angel” hardcover, “Endangered Species” (October 2002), Nancy Holder and Jeff Mariotte spend the first two acts delivering a decompressed narrative that shows their strong grasp of where the characters are at in early Season 3. We soak up Angel’s growing feelings for Cordelia and Fred’s post-Pylea introversion, and everyone is on their game (except, as is common for these novels, I always feel like Gunn calls people “dog” more than on the TV show).
Nancy Holder and Jeff Mariotte wrap up their “Buffy”/“Angel” crossover trilogy “Unseen” by paying off most of the threads in satisfying ways and going big with the idea of our heroes traipsing through alternate dimensions. As is often the case in the Buffyverse novels, “Long Way Home” (September 2001) has ideas (alternate dimensions) and character traits (Willow’s and Tara’s incredible magic skills) that are a bit too ahead of the curve from where the TV series is at. For instance, when the “Angel” gang ends up in Pylea at the end of Season 2, you’d think Angel might reference his trip to various dimensions in “Long Way Home” from the previous summer.
Nancy Holder and Jeff Mariotte expand on their portrayal of gang warfare in Los Angeles and Sunnydale by digging into the Russian side of the Mexican-Russian conflict in “Unseen II: Door to Alternity” (July 2001), the second of a trilogy. In a backstory, the authors do some impressive writing from the point of view of scientist Alexis Vishnikoff, who believes in everything the Soviet Union stands for, and hates everything the USA stands for.
“Unseen I: The Burning” (May 2001), the first of a “Buffy”/“Angel” crossover trilogy, is one of the more unusual Buffyverse books so far. It’s notably decompressed, features many different storylines, and –most strikingly – digs into themes that don’t seem to be in the wheelhouse of this saga. For instance, Buffy is going after Los Angeles street gangs and Angel is trying to help a man who has been framed by corrupt L.A. cops.
I remember when “Tales of the Slayer Vol. 1” (October 2001) came out, it felt to me like for first time the Buffyverse had a sprawling Expanded Universe similar to what “Star Wars” had developed. Starting here, a character need not be peripherally linked to Buffy in order to have their story told.
Although “Buffy” was generally a slightly better TV show than “Angel,” I remember the “Angel” novels being consistently better than the “Buffy” novels. Because “Angel” was a less serialized concept, it was easy for authors to write a good old-fashioned detective yarn and have it fit into the timeline without any problems. In my re-read, I’ll eventually get to those types of books, but the series’ first original novel, “Not Forgotten” (April 2000), is more of a thematic piece centering on mortality and leaving a legacy.
Nancy Holder intriguingly expands on Slayer mythology and simultaneously scoffs at established continuity in “The Book of Fours” (April 2001). But even if the idea that it fits into Season 3’s TV arcs is laughable, this third hardcover in the series is a delicious page-turner that daringly breaks free of narrative convention.