The Xander Years, Vol. 1
Author: Keith R.A. DeCandido
The next installment of the Buffy novelization series is The Xander Years, Vol. 1 focusing on Xander Harris, the comic relief and every man of the Scooby Gang. The episodes revisited in prose from begin with “Teacher’s Pet” (Season One, Episode Four), followed by “Inca Mummy Girl” (Season Two, Episode Four) and finally “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” (Season Two, Episode Sixteen), Each episode is certainly very Xander focused, and the large gap in between episodes is handled fairly well by interludes told from Xander’s perspective recapping the major events that happened in between the episodes. So why wasn’t this a better read?
The main reason is the strength of the episodes recapped. Even die hard Buffy fans have to admit the first season is not exactly peak tv. “Teacher’s Pet” is a very standard monster of the weak episode where there’s no character growth or advancement of the characters. A science teacher at Buffy’s school is decapitated and the replacement is a sexy woman who has the hots for Xander (and other virgin students). Based on that dubious info, as well as that a vampire is scared of whatever the creature is and that the topic in science class was insects, Buffy correctly guesses that the substitute teacher is a Praying Mantis woman. The whole thing is flimsy and conflicts with later Buffy lore about vampires being cowards around many other demons.
The second episode, “Inca Mummy Girl” is a stronger episode, but it suffers because it is essentially the exact same plot as “Teacher’s Pet” but instead of a teacher it’s a foreign exchange student who’s actually a mummy. Xander has to laugh at one point that he has the world’s worst taste in women, which is funny when there’s several episodes between the two but back to back it just feels like writers out of ideas. At least in “Inca Mummy Girl” there is more of a character arc involving Xander choosing his friendship with Willow over the opportunity for love with Ampata, but a slog of a story followed by the exact same thing slightly better executed had me ready to put this book down.
Thankfully the last story, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is great. Coming from the end of Season Two, when one of the best shows in tv history was at its peak, everything is clicking. By this point Angel is evil, Cordelia and Xander have a relationship, and Oz is a regular cast members. In this episode, Xander and Cordelia break up. Heartbroken, Xander approaches witch Amy and asks her to cast a love spell that makes Cordelia fall in love with him so that he can instead break up with her. The spell goes wrong, affecting every other woman except for Cordelia. The setup allows great moments for Buffy, Joyce, Jenny Calendar and even Drucilla, and even features fun moments from Spike, Angel and Oz as well.
The basic problem with these character specific novelization installments is that if you want to read them all it jumbles up the chronology between the books. If you don’t want to read them all, you’re left with huge gaps in the storylines that, although summed up fine in between stories, leave you missing many of the best moments for the characters. The third story in this book is great, but for Xander fans you’re missing out on the great Cordelia/Xander get together, all of their initial secrecy and jumping in right as they are breaking up.