Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Review

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CHILD OF THE HUNT

By Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder

reviewed by Shiai

Buffy

One of the reasons why authors Golden and Holder are so prolific as writers of the Buffy books is that both have a genuine talent for picking up elements from the television show and delving into them, finding fresh stories to pursue.

CHILD OF THE HUNT is an 'Adult Novel' (that is, at some point, one of the characters throws out the word "bitch") set during the third season of the TV series. Buffy, Willow and Xander are seniors at Sunnydale High School, Giles is still the school librarian, and Angel the vampire has been brought back from a hell dimension, although the relationship between him and Buffy remains fragile and complex, owing to the Gypsy curse that mandates that should he again know one moment of pure happiness (such as consummation of his love with Buffy), he'll lose his soul and revert back to being the evil Angelus. There's no mention of the Mayor, Faith, Spike or Drusilla, as per orders from Fox, which has always been very stingy about when and how those popular villains can be used in the books.

As the springboard for this tale, the authors looked to a story arc from the start of the third season, in which Buffy, distraught at having seemingly killed Angel the previous spring, had run away from home, living as a runaway in Los Angeles. Buffy eventually returned to Sunnydale, but there were emotional repercussions; her mother, Joyce, as well as her friends all felt abandoned by Buffy, and they all held the fear that she might again just up and leave them someday. The television show dealt with this issue over the course of a few episodes, but then, by and large, seemed satisfied that the matter had been taken care of, and it was never really again returned to.

But Golden and Holder weren't ready to walk away from it quite so quickly. They understood that the emotional turmoil would remain, and it would have a ripple effect. That is the cornerstone of this story.

There's still an element of tension between Joyce and Buffy. The mother now knows of her daughter's destiny as the Chosen One, and she has more or less come to grips with it, but she still doesn't like it. And Joyce is still shaken by the fears and uncertainties she held during the months when Buffy was gone, and she had absolutely no idea what had become of her child. To help deal with the trauma that still haunts her, Joyce has helped establish a runaway shelter in Sunnydale (for such a small town, it seems that there's quite a sizeable runaway population; you'd think the vampires would have pretty much eliminated it). She continually asks Buffy to help out, the unspoken reason being that she wants Buffy to see first hand what loved ones go through when a child runs away. Plus, she also desperately wants to find a way to bond again with her daughter, and she hopes that sharing some good deeds together at the shelter will help restore the close ties they once had.

Unfortunately, Buffy continually spurns Joyce's requests, always finding reasons not to spare the time. It's not that she doesn't also want to reestablish a bond with her mother, but between her feelings of guilt over having left, and her duties as the Slayer, there never seems to be a right time to try. And so, emotions remain frayed in the Summers house.

But of more immediate concern to Buffy is the arrival of a Renaissance Fair on the outskirts of town. She and her friends quickly discover there's something very sinister about it, and Buffy becomes very concerned about a stable boy named Roland whom she becomes convinced is a runaway himself, and who is being abused by the "King" of the fair. Buffy is determined to rescue Roland and uncover the secret of the fair.

Naturally, this being life on the Hellmouth, Roland turns out to be much more than just another runaway child, and the fair is a whole lot more than just a bunch of thespians with a yen for cloaks and codpieces. But then, just as we're delving into the secret of the fair, the story takes an abrupt turn as an entirely new (yet not unrelated) menace arises: Hern the Erl King, master of the Hunt, has returned to our world with his supernatural huntsmen to stalk the souls of the damned, as well as seize any mortals foolish enough to cast their eyes upon them as they thunder through the night in pursuit of their prey. Hern also has a strong interest in Roland, and he isn't about to let Buffy get in his way.

As the story unfolds, we also get a glimpse at the world of runaways in Sunnydale by meeting Brian and Connie, a boy and girl who fled their homes and live on the streets. They soon become embroiled in the plans of the Erl King.

Not unexpectedly for a town like Sunnydale, not every instance of running away is what it seems. Buffy discovers a young boy who is believed to have run away from home, but actually was turned into a vampire. She stakes him, but then feels deep remorse over the fact that she can never tell the child's mother...who clings to every hope that her son will return home...he is dead. This incident touches upon what must be a dark issue in Sunnydale…what becomes of the loved ones of people who are sired as vampires? They must go through life never knowing how and why these people suddenly disappeared. It's a heartrending realization. Buffy is saddened by the fact that these aren't merely monsters she's slaying…they were once living people, and there are friends and family who miss them desperately.

Also figuring prominently in the story is Brian's father, Jamie Anderson, a Sunnydale police officer who is so emotionally distraught over Brian's disappearance, he is teetering on the edge of final despair. Jamie is a neighbor of Rupert Giles, and the Watcher finds himself providing a last lifeline to the anguished father. Over time, Jamie (as well as Brian) discover the secret of Buffy, they learn of her mission, and they discover that there really are scary things that go bump in the night. It's refreshing to see that not everyone in town lives in a cocoon, and that when they are faced with the unnatural, they will indeed be frightened, but they won't force themselves to deny it. Although, truthfully, it seems unlikely to me that a Sunnydale policeman would have absolutely no inkling of the bizarre things happening in the town; if anything, I would think the police would have a great deal of knowledge of vampires and such, and that they would be actively working to quell the truth in order to avoid a public panic. That was certainly hinted at on the TV show a few times.

Also brought into the story is Lucy Hanover, both as ghost and in recollection. She was a 19th Century Slayer who had a previous confrontation with the Erl King, but the details are sketchy, and it appears that something more than what is briefly recorded in her Watcher's journal occurred between them.

There are fights aplenty throughout the story, with Buffy and the Scoobies battling zombies, dark fairies, warlocks, and , of course, vampires. There's a fun passage in which Oz, entering a veritable vortex of unbridled mystic energy, finds himself magically transformed into his half-man/half-werewolf persona…but with his own intellect still intact. It's rather entertaining to see laconic Oz suddenly turn into a furious fighting machine that even Angel and Buffy can`t keep up with as he battles to find the captured Willow.

As expected, the theme of running away is a dour one, and it settles a gloomy air upon the entire story. There isn't much in the way of joyfulness to be found here, not even a lot of the patented Buffy and the Scoobies merriment. When the adventure ends, it's a victory of sorts, and there's even a final loving act of hope, but this isn't the clear cut triumph of good over evil. It is, perhaps, more of a stalemate in shades of gray.

But in truth, the stories of the fair and the Erl King, which predominant, are not at the center of what makes this book work. It's the emotional issues which are, fittingly, at the heart of the tale. Buffy and Joyce navigate through a complex maze of doubt, love, fear, commitment and faith. Perhaps it is this which stirs up Buffy's maternal protection of Roland, and gives her the need to "save" someone.

We also get to visit the romantic relationships between Willow and Oz and Xander and Cordelia in satisfying ways. When Willow and Xander are seized by Hern, both of their significant others respond in similar ways. Oz immediately goes off in pursuit of the huntsmen, caring nothing about his own safety as he risks all to rescue Willow. Cordelia also sheds her vapid self-centeredness; she goes to Buffy's house (and has a nice, if brief, heart-to-heart with Joyce that helps Buffy's mother get a slightly better understanding of what a Slayer must face), grabs some weapons, and heads off to save the day herself. Neither prove to be acts of futility, and both fully demonstrate the deep affection which Oz and Cordy have for Willow and Oz.

But perhaps most importantly of all, Golden and Holder give us a few scenes which I so very much wish had happened in the series. On the show, most adults in Sunnydale seem to be of the "Peanuts" variety (if you'll recall the Charlie Brown cartoons, no adults are ever seen in full, and their voices are really nothing more than trumpet- like bleats, thus rendering them largely inconsequential to the world at large). Adults are seen as fools at best, enemies at worst in Sunnydale, as it's the children who save the day time and again. And one couldn't help but wonder just how the parents of Willow, Xander and Cordelia could be so oblivious as to let their kids wander around town at all hours of the night, often returning bruised and cut, with never a fully satisfactory explanation to be had.

Well, according to the authors, the parents are not oblivious. They sit up late at night, worrying and wondering. For the first (and to date, only) time, we see these parents as human beings. They love their children, they care about them, but for whatever reason, they haven't been able to bond with them. Xander's parents figure he's just out sowing his wild oats, but that doesn't mean they don't intend to punish him when he finally (to their unspoken relief) strolls in through the door. Cordy's parents have faith she'll always do the right thing, but still, they fret that her life might not always be so charmed. And Willow's mother and father so very much want to reconnect with her, but they feel her slipping away into a new life of her own. They acknowledge that they have to let her go, but it still pains them that they must. In their own ways, Willow, Xander and Cordelia are runaways in their own homes.

For these revelations, CHILD OF THE HUNT is very much recommended by me. Brief as they are in the course of this 300-plus page book, they add immeasurable depth to the characters of the Scoobies.

As for the main story, it isn't bad at all, although it does start slowly, then slow down a bit again later on. It also feels a bit padded, and introducing both the fair and the huntsmen as menaces strikes me as being too much plot; either threat would have been sufficient alone for this book. Still, both Chris Golden and Nancy Holder can always be counted on to give readers some nice little twists, and they both have excellent grasps of the characters.

**** 3 out of 5 stars