Tag: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“Night Terrors” by Alice Henderson Review

Night Terrors

Night Terrors (A Stake Your Destiny Buffy Book)

Author: Alice Henderson

Published:  2005

Maybe I’m biased because I made it through this book to a happy ending on my first try, but this was my favorite of the Stake Your Destiny Buffy books. I wrote in my review forKeep Me In Mind that “the entire thing reads like a long dream sequence (I hate dream sequences).” Night Terrorsactually featured a lengthy dream sequence so now I’m reevaluating my stance on the topic. I think the problem with Keep Me In Mind was that the entire book felt like a training drill with zero stakes (sorry, bad pun… how about consequences) for the reader. In Night Terrors I was making what I felt was the best choice each time but I constantly felt like I was leading Buffy to her death as the plot got weirder and wackier.

The plot of Night Terrors is that people around Sunnydale are getting sleepy, and feeling paralyzed in their sleep but feeling as though they are awake. It starts off affecting Buffy but spreads to others like Angel and her classmates. As Buffy feels like something is sitting on top of her, and that she’s not alone in her room, she lies paralyzed and unable to do anything about it. Once the feeling has passed, we’re given the choice of going to find Angel, going out on a patrol, or studying for a test that day that we’ve so far neglected. The choice is simple enough, but right away the book at least gave options that felt either more authentic to how Buffy would behave in the tv series or that an average reader would consider in her place (the previous Stake Your Destiny books have seemed addicted to offering a day spent with Cordelia right out of the gate).

**Slight Spoilers follow**

I flipped around when I was finished and saw other happy endings possible for the reader, and since it’s difficult to review this book without giving away the track I followed, reader beware. I started off patrolling before ending up heading toward the gym at Principal Snyder’s direction. Before I got there I decided to check on a crying student. After I learned more from the Scoobies, I decided to sleep and confront the Night Terror right away (my thinking being that staying up would just lead to a later confrontation with a tired and weakened slayer). After entering the dream world, I tried to locate Willow to communicate with the other spirits. When that was a dead end, I decided to Trust Ned, the man from Planet X who worked with the Lava people and build a dreamcatcher to catch the Night Terror.

For those following along, yeah that took a turn well away from anything in the series. I can only say that the alternative options presented to me seemed like tricks by the enemy, and that my path resulted in a happy ending. Spending about one third of this story in an anything goes dream world actually felt more like an episode of the tv series than one would thing just from reading that recap. In particular, it felt like the season four finale where Willow, Buffy, and Xander are encountering the First Slayer in their sleep.

**End of spoilers**

Besides feeling like a fun episode of the series and rewarding my obviously excellent choices based on years of watching the show and reading the books and comics, Night Terrorsalso benefitted by not having the ultra predictable page numbering problem present in some of the other Stake Your Destiny books. I jumped into the last 200 pages fairly early and often my two choices were close enough in page numbering to not give away which way the book was steering me. Although I wouldn’t put this book up there withDune or East of Eden, I’ve now read all of the Stake Your Destiny books and this was the only one that I didn’t come away from with grievances, and I actually had a really fun time reading it. That earns a perfect score from this reader.

3-star

“Colony” by Melinda Metz and Laura J. Burns Review

Colony

Author: Melinda Metz and Laura J. Burns

Release Date: 2005

Colony

The first season of Buffy features some ridiculous storylines and villains, including an episode (“Teacher’s Pet”) where Xander’s teacher is a beautiful woman who is actually a praying mantis looking to eat her mates.  Colony takes place during season two of Buffy and features a very similar villain although with the added danger of mind control (similar to the episode “Bad Eggs”).  With a plot reminiscent of two actual episodes, one would expect that this book nails the overall feel of the early episodes of the season.  There were a few issues that keep that from being the case, starting with that recurring Buffy novelization problem of visions by the protagonist.  One gets the feeling that a lot of these writers rewatched the movie before writing their books as Buffy’s dreams are constantly referenced in the books whereas they were totally disregarded in the show.  The other biggest problem in this book was Buffy’s slow reaction to the danger her friends were in.

In Colony, the school is visited by a guest speaker who is actually an Ant Queen whose goal is to reproduce and build an Ant Colony.  Buffy sees many of her friends and Watcher under mind control, and even suffering from body horror out of Cronenberg (Xander develops a giant thorax, other characters develop Ant mouths) but routinely takes no action or doesn’t acknowledge the seriousness of the situation.  It’s difficult to criticize a book with a ridiculous plot (and a giant demon that resembles the Lucky Charms Leprechaun) for not taking things seriously enough, but the characters treating the situation as not serious removed any tension from this book.

This is a Stake Your Destiny book where the reader makes choices and tries to navigate through to a happy ending.  In that regard this book did a better job that either of the previous two installments (although I preferred the story more in The Suicide King).  The choices offered to the character were more in line with actual paths Buffy might take in the show, and I made it through with only one wrong choice.  My one wrong choice involved whether Buffy should ask Xander about what was going on with him or go patrolling and look for Angel.  It was one of those situations where Buffy made a few other decisions after the one I made which ended up killing her but overall it didn’t feel completely unfair.  This book also didn’t have the same problem as Keep Me in Mind where the choices were obvious based on page numberings which one you should pick.  Here I jumped back and forth across the book and reached the end so if there was a more direct path through it I missed out on it.

The cleverest part of this book involved the purpose of the personality test that the students were all required to take (determining what role they’d have in the ant colony).  The twist felt like a well thought out reason for the villain assuming the identity that she was posing under.  I still have another Stake Your Destiny to go and am hoping for one that feels accurate to the series and offers realistic choices laid out in a non-predictable manner.  So far each of these books has been lacking in at least one of those areas, but I am still enjoying the general idea of reading these and navigating my own way through a Buffy episode.

3-star

“Keep Me in Mind” by Nancy Holder Review

keep

Keep Me in Mind

Author: Nancy Holder

Release Date: April 2005

What makes a good Choose Your Own Adventure Buffy book? Well, the things that make a good Buffy book are characters that act true to the tv series, and a story that feel like it has something at risk for the reader and does not contradict what we know on the show. A good choose your own adventure book allows the reader to feel like they are in control of the story and their decisions have consequences. Unfortunately, this book (while clearly written by an author knowledgeable of the show) struggles under both measures.

The biggest problem in this book starts in the pages before chapter one. Typically a choose your own adventure book has a warning in it, “Stop! Don’t read the pages in this book in order!” or some similar remark. This book opts for a multipage letter from Giles to Buffy telling her about how this book allows her to relive her adventures or some other disclaimer, essentially telling the reader “none of what you are about to read is real.” Obviously none of it is real, we’re all aware of that. The problem is the nature of this specific story is that Buffy continually sees images from her past that aren’t real, and combined with the preface to the book, the entire thing reads like a long dream sequence (I hate dream sequences).

The story does not make much sense until you figure out what’s causing it, nor does it attempt to catch your attention beyond “Buffy goes to school, bad guys show up.” It is set in motion by questions about whether you should train or not or investigate the reappearance of an invisible girl (ok, that was poorly worded) but eventually we find out that **spoiler alert** Ethan Rayne is behind a spell that causes people’s memories to create doppelgangers of the people in the memories. For Buffy, this means repeat encounters with the Master, Luke, Spike, Ted, Incan Mummy Girl, and other memorable one episode villains from the show. Clearly the author is a fan of the show, and knows the characters well. Still, one of the first choices in both this and “The Suicide King” (the first two installments in this series) ask the reader to have Buffy make a decision to ditch her responsibilities and hang out with Cordelia. Both stories clearly take place in season two of the show, when it’s a guarantee neither character would ever make that choice, and start the books off with an action that feels like it contradicts the world the book is set in.

Whereas with the Suicide King, I finished the book quickly, taking three separate paths through it, with this book I only made one wrong turn early on (deciding to visit the nurse’s office, which led to the book ending with Buffy having to meet Principal Snyder for an hour every morning… definitely not the usual fatal error found in these books) before going back and making it to the happy ending on try two in what felt like more of a slog. Many of the “choices” were actually just roadmaps, where the reader would go to one page if they had made a certain choice earlier, or a different page if they made the other choice. The problem is that most of these pages I would end up having to read twice because I would take the choice that was earlier in the page count, and then have to revisit as I made it later on the book. (It’s a pet peeve of mine when you read these books when it is basically completed by reading chronologically, i.e. if you jump ahead 70 pages you’d be dead quicker than making the choice that you read the next page). Some of the choices take you to the same exact place as well, with only one page of interim text being different. There was also a fair share of crapshoot choices, “you lost her, do you go left or right?” or “they disappeared, do you check the roof or the alley?” It diminished the feeling of accomplishment of reaching the happy ending when there were few choices that required thought along the way. The net effect was reading the entire book felt more like reading a substandard Buffy book than a Choose Your Own Adventure Buffy book.

The best quality about the book is it was written with hindsight of a few seasons of television before it was published, so there are plenty of comments by Buffy that give a chuckle to the reader (seeing Jonathan and saying there’s no reason he’d ever draw the slayer’s interest, the thought of kissing Spike repulsing her, Willow never changing from her ordinary self, etc.). I also appreciate that when giving the opportunity to make decisions that the characters would make, it would lead to better consequences in the adventure. However, the earlier problems in the book, and the fact that the end of the book was about 20 pages in a row with no choices (and ridiculous markings at the bottom telling the reader to turn to the next page) didn’t lead to this being a great entry in the extended universe of Buffy.

2-star

“The Suicide King” by Robert Joseph Levy Review

suicide

Suicide King

Author: Robert Joseph Levy

Release Date: February 2005

Students at Sunnydale High are killing themselves at an alarming rate. At first, the Scooby gang thinks that life on the Hellmouth is getting to their classmates, but anybody who has ever watched the show knows there’s more likely a demonic explanation for what’s going on. That’s the setting for this Choose Your Own Adventure style book set in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Universe.

My first reading of this book lasted about twenty pages before I died. I thought that I was making the choices the characters on the show would make, but my first death involved following up on alleged death by peanut allergy by a fellow student but that somehow led to me investigating a warehouse and confronting Spike and Drucilla on my own. That was fairly frustrating, as it seems like there are a few interim choices I had to make to get at that point that were unrelated to the peanut allergy kid.

When I tried again, I tried to go the opposite route of Buffy (including going to a movie with Cordelia, something I doubt either character would ever have done on the show) and ended up doing much better (though aided with some knowledge of clues that I had found my first time through. This second trip through allowed for me to survive at the cost of one poor soul being sacrificed to entrap the Suicide King.

On my third time though, process of elimination made it a fairly easy path to survive until the end, for a happily ever after while patrolling the cemetery with Angel. This story taking place during season two of the television show allows for some fun insight by the reader into how things really turn out between Buffy, Angel and Spike. For fans of the tv show I thought this was a pretty fun entry into the novelization series.

4-star

“How I Survived My Summer Vacation” by Various Authors Review

how

How I Survived My Summer Vacation

Author: Nancy Holder, Paul Ruditis, MIchelle Sagara West, Cameron Dokey, Yvonne Navarro

Release Date: August 2000

This is a short story collection about the summer in between seasons 1 and 2 of Buffy. During this summer (according to the book) Buffy went to Los Angeles with her dad for a few months while Angel, Jenny, Giles, Xander and Willow are left behind to keep Sunnydale safe. The book benefits from having the framing device and all the stories take place in chronological order, although compared to the Tales of the Slayer short story collections, this book lacks a real stand out great story. Here’s what I thought of the individual stories:

Dust by Michelle West – A story about Buffy spending the summer in LA with her dad and the aftermath of her own death and battle with the master; Buffy also has visions of death for whomever she touches. Not much holds up here continuity wise with the series (relationship with dad, Master’s resurrection, Joyce’s future death) and all the dream sequences sapped any urgency or threat of danger.

Absalom Rising by Nancy Holder – Angel, Giles, Willow, Xander and Jenny Calendar try to figure out what to do with the Master’s bones while the anointed one and new vampire Absalom try to recover them. The bones story line ended up being resolved better in the show, and this installment at worst contradicts and at best doesn’t really add anything to what’s canon. 3.5/5

Looks Can Kill by Cameron Dokey – Giles, Angel and Ms. Calendar team up to thwart a shapeshifter. This felt like a nice season one bad guy of the week episode. 4 out of 5

No Place Like… By Cameron Dokey – Buffy helps a fortune teller reunite with her dead daughter while setting a spirit to rest. Definitely not as good as the ghost episode of Buffy and felt rushed in the final confrontation. 3 out of 5

Uncle Dead and the Fourth of July by Yvonne Navarro – Giles, Jenny and Angel must deal with an army of zombies resurrected during a 4th of July parade. With one episode of Buffy devoted to Zombies, plus another whole novelization this felt very unnecessary. 2 out of 5

The Show Must Go On by Paul Ruditis – Xander and Willow are working on a traveling theater production when a series of theatrical themed murders occur. Coincidence? I think not. Still this was the most fun entry in the book as the backstage murdering requires last minute improvisations by the stage crew. 4.5/5

3-star

“Night of the Living Rerun” by Arthur Byron Cover Review

night

Night of the Living Rerun

Author: Arthur Byron Cover

Release Date: March 1998

I feel guilty giving any book one star because nobody sets out to write a bad book. Unfortunately this book was a perfect storm of elements that made it a slog to get through despite being less than 200 fairly small pages.

I’ll be the first to admit that season one of Buffy was the worst, featuring characters that hadn’t yet found their voice, a generic big bad (The Master) and ill fitting plot points from the movie worked in. However, despite all that I’ve enjoyed books like Coyote Moon that felt true to the characters at that point and told a fun story.

Here, the plot is set into motion by dreams, the most boring thing in fiction (books, movies, etc). Buffy dreams of being a witch slayer, Xander dreams of being a witch, Giles and the Master dream of even less interesting stuff. As each dream sequence began I thought “here’s another stretch of pages that aren’t about these characters and have zero risk of affecting the story.” It turns out all the characters are reliving the Salem Witch trials, and it’s part of some once every 300 year (give or take a few) opportunity for the master to ascend.

With the lame plot in motion one would hope the characters act at least true to their tv counterparts. No such luck here as Giles asks “how do you Americans say this” and Buffy kills the master using a steak knife and the entire timing of the book is vague as Buffy makes a joke about dying (“been there done that”) putting it after the season finale but the Master is still trying to ascend from below ground.

The entire read was tedious and frustrating, sadly my least favorite book in my chronological run through so far.

1-star

“Coyote Moon” by John Vornholt Review

coyote

Coyote Moon

Author: John Vornholt

Release Date: January 1998

A carnival comes to town and a pack of coyotes begins prowling the streets of Sunnydale. Related? Of course. I liked this book a lot more than Halloween rain primarily because the characters and story felt more like something that would have appeared in Buffy season one. And like that season, this was hokey but fun and ultimately kind of forgettable.

The book loses a few points for Giles not knowing what cotton candy is (c’mon, there’s no way), Willow being allergic to dogs (which would have added some fun complications with Oz) and the group all having money from babysitting gigs. Besides that though the spirit of the characters felt right and the bad guys had interesting motivations and weren’t entirely predictable.

4-star