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Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Book Of Fours
Pocket paperback £5.99
review by Cristopher Hennessey-DeRose
Nancy Holder's latest foray into the world of Buffy The Vampire Slayer concerns extreme events the characters experienced during the TV show's third season. In the story, Sunnydale is being assaulted by extreme forces of nature such as flood, fire, and earthquake whilst four paranormal entities wielding strange axes geared to killing specific Slayers manifest themselves in town. They are the Wanderers, who have been ordered by a powerful sorceress who plans to feed the essences of the Slayers to the being she serves, the Gatherer who will then unleash unholy forces upon the world. It is up to vampire slayers Buffy and Faith, and their friends, to find a way to stop this from coming to pass.
It is necessary for the Slayers to call upon the spirits of two dead Slayers, Kendra (whom we met in the course of the series) and India, whom we've never seen before and is also the Slayer that immediately came before Buffy. Familiar characters like Willow, Xander, Cordelia, and Giles all turn up to provide whatever help they can, with Giles providing his usual contacts with the Watcher's Council in order to get India's Watcher, Kit, on the scene and Xander is pretty much what he is on the show: a bit of cannon fodder, which is a shame since his character is overshadowed by the fact that both Willow and Cordelia give their bodies over to India and Kendra, respectively, in order for the two living Slayers to have the power required to defeat the Gatherer.
In the climactic battle, Buffy watches as her schoolmates powered by the Slayer-spirits fall under the might of the Gatherer while a terribly wounded Faith continues to fight by her side. For a stirring conclusion, when all is hopeless, the spirits of all the Slayers to come before Buffy and Faith come into being, ascending an astral stairway to join the battle that threatens the entirety of this plane of existence, coming to defeat the enemy that has caused them to transcend the afterlife.
There are two considerable potential liabilities to media tie-in novels; one is the reader thinking 'so-and-so wouldn't talk like that.' The other is placing the events of the book into an arc of the series the reader will not only enjoy re-living in clever pastiches scattered here and there throughout the body of the work, but also making the 'new' events work within the framework of the story it's based itself on. Nancy Holder excels in the first instance - Buffy herself puns, co-slayer Faith says whatever's on her mind at any given time, and all the other characters remain completely faithful to how they appear on TV. Even the charming awkwardness of witch-to-be Willow comes across when her dialogue isn't hindered by a walk-through of her convoluted thought process, which at times early in the book can be cumbersome to keep straight in one's head. Perhaps that was the point.
In terms of fitting the occurrences within a given arc, Holder's work travels on unsteady ground. The goings-on of The Book Of Fours happen during the third season of the show, which I consider to be one of the strongest, if not the strongest of the six seasons the show has thus far enjoyed, which can work against the author of a tie-in novel.
The events of The Book Of Fours are so significant - whatever parts of Sunnydale that haven't been burned to the ground has been blown away by fierce winds, flooded over, or torn asunder by an earthquake that never seems to end, only increases or decreases like a stormy sea. Even Giles' condo gets totaled because of the quake.
The characters themselves go through their respective trials here, as well. Faith very nearly dies, bringing a fear to the usually unflappable Boston-born Slayer that we only got the briefest of looks into during her appearances on the show. Xander's arm suffers a God-awful burn, and a car accident sends Willow into emergency brain surgery, rendering her bald and more than a bit unsteady until India's spirit takes control of her.
If some mention had been made regarding between which episodes this story occurs, how much time passes between this book and the episode that would follow it up, it would have only strengthened the story instead of weakening it by over-specifying, which is certainly a potential problem for an author to consider. But with a writer of Holder's calibre, it would have been a problem easily solved.
Holder's sense of scope is displayed nicely here, especially the ending battle between the Gatherer, Buffy, Faith and the spirits of all the Slayers that have come before Buffy. One could only hope that such a thing could be remembered if it comes to the oft-rumoured feature film (are you listening, Mr Whedon?). This work could easily be seen on the big screen. Its plot is certainly worthy, paced largely like a film, and could not be dismissed as just a long episode with a bigger budget than usual.
Holder's villains are painted with her trademark vividness, but it seems as though the only reason any character of her own making makes an appearance is to be evil or to be corrupted to it, taking away some of the suspense.
This is one of the author's most ambitious works, crossing multiple timelines, encompassing the complicated and compelling mythology of the Gatherer and the Wanderers and holding them all together within a universe of someone else's manufacture. The introduction of India Cohen, the Slayer that Buffy succeeded, and her story is long in coming but a bit of a letdown. In many ways, she is too much like Buffy in mannerisms and speech. The journal entries India leaves behind could very well have been penned by Buffy herself.
On another tack, Buffy was or is still in love with the wounded poet of a vampire, Angel. India was in love with her Watcher, a vulnerability that ends in her demise. Forbidden love is a powerful thematic element, but the symmetry is far too apparent here. The return (in a manner of speaking) of Slayer Kendra is welcome and I for one was glad that the author wisely chose not to phonetically spell words out in her Jamaican accent, but it would have been amusing to know whether her host body, Cordelia, began speaking in that accent while Kendra's soul resided in her body.
The Book Of Fours provides a worthy extension of the Buffy universe and another showcase for Holder's considerable talent and ability. Her enthusiasm for the plot as well as for the characters is obvious and often contagious, something rare that only makes the experience in reading this story all the more enjoyable. Eagerly recommended.
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