Aline of “Firefly” novels was advertised in the back of the “Serenity” novelization in 2005, but it wasn’t until 13 years later that we saw the first entry in the series. Written by James Lovegrove based on a story idea by “Buffy” tie-in veteran Nancy Holder, “Big Damn Hero” (November 2018) combines a couple of concepts — sometimes effectively, sometimes awkwardly. The Serenity crew (and Mal himself) must figure out who kidnapped Mal and why. Also, violent anti-Browncoat sentiment has sprung up on Persephone.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
The fourth and final “Tales of the Slayer” collection (November 2004) is also the only one centered around a theme: specifically, the Cruciamentum – as seen in “Helpless” (3.12) — wherein the Slayer is weakened by drugs and forced to defeat a vampire via only her wits and fighting skills. Remarkably, these aren’t just eight tales of Slayers being betrayed by their Watchers and feeling horrible; the authors find a variety of angles with which to approach the concept. Here are my rankings, from best to weakest, although there isn’t a bad story in the bunch:
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).