Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Review

ONE THING OR YOUR MOTHER

ONE THING OR YOUR MOTHER

by Kristen Beyer

Cecil

 

Reviewed by Shiai

Cecil.

At long last, we can put a first name to the man known for so long simply as Principal Snyder. That comes courtesy of author Kirsten Beyer in this, her first (and most likely only…more on why later on in this review) Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel.

Never mind that one episode of the television series indicated that Snyder’s first name started with an ‘R’…Cecil is so spot-on for him, we can easily overlook any miniscule bits of canon and accept this.

One Thing or Your Mother is set back during Season 2 of BtVS (immediately after the episode “I Only Have Eyes for You“), with Buffy struggling to make passing grades, and Snyder ever-anxious to find a reason…any reason…to expel that troublemaking Summers girl.

As the title suggests, the theme of this novel is mothers, and Cecil Snyder ultimately stars right at the heart of the story…although that’s not entirely obvious at first. Instead, we’re introduced to several other storylines:

* Buffy is in serious need of a grade turnaround: despite all of those study sessions she puts in with Willow (actually, she’s out patrolling graveyards), flunking the eleventh grade is a strong possibility. So, her mother Joyce decides to hire a private tutor, and the school recommends Todd Harter, a student at UC Sunnydale. Todd isn’t just smart…he’s good looking, kind, witty, and takes an obvious interest in his pupil. Some playful flirting between them soon starts to deepen into a genuine attraction, at least on Buffy’s part.

But while she may entertain thoughts of a romance with Todd, she knows that’s the surest way to get him very dead. For Buffy is being stalked by Angel…once her ally and lover, now (having lost his soul) reverted back to the murderous Angelus. Killing Todd…gruesomely so…is just the sort of thing Angelus would do to hurt the Slayer emotionally, which is his depraved preface to finally taking her own life.

* We also meet Josh Grodin, a freshman at Sunnydale High for whom life has taken a definite turn for the worse, ever since the death of his mother. His dad, shattered by his wife’s passing, had taken to drinking his days away, growing cruel and abusive toward his son. Josh, mourning the loss of his mom and equally fearful of and hating his father, came across what he believed was the solution to his problems: one day, looking through the back stacks at the school library, he stumbled across an old book that clearly didn’t belong there…a book on magic. On how to raise demons, to be more precise. A notation inside of the book indicated it was the private property of the librarian, Mr. Giles, and was clearly placed on the shelf by mistake, but that didn’t stop Josh from “borrowing” it and bringing it home. Once there, he carefully performed the ritual detailed in its pages on how to bring forth a protector demon. What emerged was a great deal more than he bargained for.

* And there is the tale of motherly love gone horribly warped, as Drusilla the vampire decides she wants to be a mummy, and proceeds to kill and sire 8 year old Callie McKay, much to the dismay of her partners-in-evil, Spike and Angelus. There has long been an unwritten rule in vampiredom that you do not turn children…not out of any altruistic sense, but more practically because they tend to remain immature and impulsive, and more often as not wind up getting themselves…and the adult vampires with them…dusted through their imprudence. But with the maternal instinct raging in her unbeating heart, Drusilla will not be deterred. Upon first discovering Dru’s new “daughter,” Spike’s reaction is, typically, “Oh, sodding hell.”

* Oh, and let’s not forget the mysteries of why people of Sunnydale suddenly find themselves so utterly exhausted during their waking hours…and just why is Principal Snyder sleepwalking at night over to the bad side of town?

That’s quite a bit of story for the reader to follow, but Beyer balances the various storylines well without resorting to somehow artificially link them all together, beyond their common theme. But this tale isn’t just about plot…its real strength lies in characterization. Season 2 of BtVS was right in the midst of the ‘Soap Opera Buffy’ phase, with her doomed love for Angel and the ever-mounting pressures of being the Slayer giving the series a sweep that ranged from the cotton candy delights of the usual network TV teen ‘dramedies’ to the sweeping grandeur of a Wagnerian opera. To pull that off successfully, Beyer had to write Buffy in a way that touched emotionally at the core of her complicated soul, without falling victim to making her a figure of pity or, worse yet, making her boring. I’m very happy to report that the author deftly rises to the challenge, and gives us a Buffy Summers who is interesting and enlivening.

An even greater challenge was Spike. In Season 2, he was unquestionably a Big Bad. Snarky and not without rough charm, true, but blackly evil to the core of his soulless shell. Of course, in later seasons, Spike was rehabilitated…so much so that there are more than a few fans of ‘Blondie Bear’ who resist revisiting his evil past, preferring to think of his former actions as being not quite as bad as they appeared at the time. But there’s no room in this book for such revisionism...yet still, Beyer undoubtedly felt she must give the fans some touchstone to the more sympathetic Spike they would later come to know and clutch to their bosoms. This is accomplished by having Spike unexpectedly bond with Dru’s new “daughter,” and actually enjoying the responsibility of being a father, so to speak. But Robert Young, he ain’t! The wisdom he imparts to his adolescent protégé is of a decidedly more macabre bent.

And then there’s Snyder. A few times on the TV show, we caught glimpses behind the perpetually displeased and scheming façade that briefly gave as an added dimension to the character. Here, Beyer pulls the curtain back and takes us deep into what makes Cecil Snyder tick…and it’s more than a little surprising. That the author manages to make the reader continue to hold him in contempt while nevertheless feeling no small measure of sympathy for him in the end…and by no means are these seemingly contradictory sentiments at odds with one another…is a testament to her vision for the character. Her Cecil doesn’t undercut anything that was to come for him on television; in fact, it enhances later developments quite well, and perhaps even explains a thing or two about the nasty little man.

A true fan of the show, the author manages to insert episode references and good approximations of the program’s unique humor in equal doses, such as when Jewish girl Willow mentions, “Mom was doing a little spring cleaning on Sunday and found that crucifix we nailed to my wall when we were doing the spell to un-invite Angel. So there was talking and a little crying and a call to Rabbi 911.”

Oh, and there’s an epilogue that ties this book rather splendidly into things to come down the road for Buffy.

If there’s sadness in the fact that this is the final Buffy book to be released by Simon & Schuster…and there is sadness…it is eased somewhat by the fact that this exceptional series of novels, which so often gave us original tales that complimented and sometimes even equaled the very best of BtVS on television, has gone out not with a whimper, but with a bang.

And one mother of a bang at that.

**** 4 out of 5 stars