Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Review



By Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder reviewed by Shiai


So, it's 1997 and Simon & Schuster has acquired the rights to publish novels based upon a new weekly television series on the fledgling WB network, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". The show was difficult to pigeonhole, being various parts supernatural adventure, comedy, drama, and teen romp, and thus the publisher had to decide for itself which direction to take the books in.

Editor Lisa Clancy chose the supernatural route, but with a focus on characterization not commonly found in Young Adult genre fare. She also seemed determined to avoid the rut of formulization by bringing on board writers who would not look at the Buffy books as variations of the same basic theme, but who would instead invest a good deal of creativity into their stories.

To kick the line of original novels off, Clancy brought in two up-and-coming horror writers, Nancy Holder and Christopher Golden. Both were also fans of BtVS, so they could be expected to understand the characters and stay true to them. But they would also bring a different literary sensibility than one might first expect with a series such as this. Even more so than Buffy creator Joss Whedon, Holder and Golden understood the horror milieu. Whereas Whedon used the trappings of classic horror vampires, witches, demons to tell the story of a girl, Holder and Golden's HALLOWEEN RAIN would use the girl to delve into the stuff of which nightmares are made.

This book is set early in Buffy's career, Halloween of her sophomore year at Sunnydale High, roughly two months after the events of "Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest", which launched the TV series.

The Slayer's nemesis in this tale in addition to more than a few vampires and zombies, naturally is Samhain the Pumpkin King, the demonic embodiment of Halloween evil. Local legend has it that whenever rain falls on Halloween upon a scarecrow, Samhain's spirit animates it, unleashing the demon upon the Earth. Luckily, Samhain is magically restricted to the field in which the scarecrow resides but woe be to those who stray into that field!

Of course, American society is littered with such local legends. But as Buffy's town, Sunnydale, California, happens to be sitting atop the Hellmouth, this legend has more than a bit of truth behind it. And the truth has teeth.

Of course, Buffy is on hand to battle Samhain and save the lives of her friends, Willow and Xander. But this menace requires more than the usual punch to the face and wooden stake to the heart to defeat, and the Slayer is called upon to be as resourceful as she ever has been.

As a `Big Bad', Samhain makes for an interesting if rather one-dimensional villain. But he's also scary as hell. This was about the closest that the Buffy books ever got to Stephen King-style horror, and this book does it with style.

HALLOWEEN RAIN being the very first original Buffy novel, the authors indulge in a few elements which would not be much pursued in later books. For one thing, they attempt to expand the known characters of Sunnydale, introducing us to Claire and Nick, the managers of the Bronze, the teen-friendly club where Buffy, Willow and Xander prefer to hang. We also meet Glenn O'Leary, written off by the locals as a crank, but a man possessing a terrible knowledge about Sunnydale that has taxed his very sanity. Meeting O'Leary, the reader better understands why so many of the town's residents prefer to ignore the strange doings around them, pretending that Sunnydale is just a perfectly normal small town. To acknowledge the truth is to risk one s very perception of reality.

The authors pay a nice little homage to THE X-FILES by having Willow and Xander dress as Scully and Mulder for the Bronze's Halloween party and in so doing, they explain just why Willow's hair went from chestnut to red in the first season of BtVS without on-air explanation (to play redheaded Scully, of course! And she liked the look so much, she kept it).

We also get a brief glimpse into the past as Giles speaks of Erin Randall, a Slayer from 17th Century Ireland.

The book is not without its drawbacks. First and foremost, being written for younger readers, we never get the full-out horror a story such as this could have pursued. And there's also the matter of dialog. When Golden and Holder wrote their story, only the first season which was rife with so-called `hip teen lingo' had aired. Whedon would steer his characters away from the dated teenspeak soon enough, but the authors indulge in it at a cringe worthy level at times. But these are minor annoyances, and definitely not anything which undermines the book. The authors definitely get a solid grip on the characters, and we hear their voices loud and clear.

At fewer than 200 pages, HALLOWEEN RAIN makes for an exceptionally quick read, the perfect entertainment for a dark and stormy night. It's also a fun look back at Buffy and the Scooby Gang in their infancy as monster fighters, with a menace worthy of the horror potential of the Slayer concept. It also makes for a strong launch of what has proven to be a durable series that has outlived its television inspiration.

*** 3 out of 5 stars