Back when Buffy The Vampire Slayer was on the air, Pocket Books published a line of Buffy tie-in novels that people must have been reading. I mean, they kept on publishing them and everything. Right? Some of them were decent; others were very much the opposite of that. I’m not going to name names or anything. Except, wait – yes I am.
Only the good ones though.
Did I lose you already? What I’m saying is, we’re going to list 10 of the Buffy books you should take a peek at if you consider yourself a Slayerette (notice I didn’t say Potential, because no one should ever consider themselves that).
So put on your reading spectacles and break out the tweed – we’re about to get literate.
The Gatekeeper Trilogy by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder
Okay, so technically these are three books. But together they make one big megabook that lays a lot of groundwork for the alternate universe mythology the books prided themselves on (which was mostly developed by these two).
As with most of the novels, the horror elements are much more pronounced than they are in the show, so be prepared for some unholy ickiness. But this duo understands the wit of the show, if not the voices of the characters themselves, so not matter how uncharacteristically things get, it still feels as if you are hangin’ loose with the Scoobs. And that’s what’s important. I think.
Set during Season 3, this trippy saga finds Buffy and the gang dealing with an incredible boost in demonic activity in Sunnydale all of a sudden (don’t they always, though?). After Giles gets back from a Librarian conference in Manhattan where he was attacked by mysterious figures, he realizes what’s really going on. Dimensional portals are opening up all across town because shit’s going down at The Gatehouse – a ginormous mansion in Boston containing doorways to other worlds and ghosts and monsters and all that fun stuff.
This house is protected The Gatekeeper – a powerful sorcerer formerly known as Jean-Marc Regnier. Naturally, everyone packs their bags and heads to Boston on a field trip to investigate (because Principal Snyder would totally allow that).
What ensues is a wild ride through what is essentially the Haunted Mansion on PCP. Along the way, we’re introduced to what may be the most depressing element of the Buffy book-verse continuity: the Ghost Roads. They’re sort of like a cross between limbo and standing in line at the DMV if it was located in a hospital waiting room three floors above hell. This is a strange highway that’s strictly for the spirits to wander on – including Kendra too, sadly enough (WTF). But mortal-ish people like Buffy can use it to travel long distances too, like from Massachusetts to California, for example.
Oh, did I mention there’s an Italian secret society of dark magicians and a sudden reappearance of the Flying Dutchman in Sunnydale, too? Like I said, this is a straight up horror novel with the cheekiness of Buffy characters and none of the show’s emotional metaphors or broader themes. So don’t expect Shakespeare. Or even Whedon. (They’re the same thing, yes?) But do expect plenty of spooky fun for both hardcore and casual fans.
Sins of the Father by Christopher Golden
Hey, remember Pike? No, not Spike. I said Pike. From the Buffy movie. No, they’re not making a new Buffy movie– Yes, that’s right. I mean Luke Perry. Sigh.
Anyway, even though the show ignored his existence (and everything else from the film), the books did not. In this one in particular, Pike shows up in Sunnydale all of a sudden, seeking the Slayer’s help. It seems as though Mr. Perry killed the mate of a rock demon named Grayhewn’s, so now he’s being hunted. Nice job, Luke.
Buffy is stunned of course, because she makes it all about herself as usual. But she makes up for it by kicking some rock-hard, bouldery ass (also as usual). Meanwhile, Giles is being a total dick. Not Season 7 level dick, mind you. But still, what gives? Maybe it’s that new lady friend he’s suddenly obsessed with. Hmm. I wonder…
How I Survived My Summer Vacation by Various Authors
This collection of short stories is a hidden gem for Buffy nerds. Each one takes place during the summer after Season 1, a timeframe I think we’ve all had questions about. We get to see what the gang was up to (and thinking and feeling) for those three long months in the middle of 1997.
Buffy has spiritual encounters in Los Angeles while staying with her father following her death and resurrection in “Prophecy Girl”; Giles and Jenny are forced to deal with the Master’s bones and a mysterious shapeshifter; Willow and Xander encounter vampire Shakespeare enthusiasts while working on a local play; and Sunnydale is treated to a patriotic zombie invasion on the Fourth of July, just as our forefathers intended.
Portal Through Time by Alice Henderson
A gang of ridiculously amusing vampires go back in time to try and kill Buffy so the Slayer lineage will be disrupted and the Master will live and ascend. But despite their efforts, he still dies in a different way each time.
When Buffy becomes aware of their plans, she leads the Scoobies through an epic journey to the past where they witness the Battle of Shiloh, Gilgamesh, and the French Revolution – and all of the blood and guts they can’t stomach. This book isn’t just a great time; it’s a thoughtful commentary on how disgusting most of history was before it was glorified in textbooks.
Go Ask Malice by Joseph Levy
For all intents and purposes, this is supposed to be Faith’s diary from before her days patrolling the Hellmouth in Cali. There’s a note in the beginning which states it was found in the remains of Sunnydale which makes it extra eerie (if not slightly implausible.) We find out about her brutal days in Boston – what her life was like, how she was called, her prophetic dreams, her musician boyfriend, her first watcher, Kakistos, and so much more.
This book helps us understand one of the most conflicted characters of the Buffyverse while incorporating different parts of it ways you wouldn’t expect. For example, if you didn’t think vengeance demons had anything to do with Faith’s past, you’re going to be surprised. Just sayin’ B.
The Book of Fours by Nancy Holder
It’s best to read The Gatekeeper Trilogy before tackling this one, though it’s not completely necessary. This one also takes place during Season 3 (as if that year wasn’t eventful enough), and features Faith and Buffy working together as a team before their big falling out.
When natural disasters and stranger than usual happenings hit Sunnydale in waves, the gang thinks those weird new axe-wielding assassins are responsible. And they’re right. A woman named Cecille Liafitte sent them to kill Faith and Buffy who are the Slayers of Fire and Air, respectively. If these two are out of the picture, the Slayer line will finally end and a being called The Gatherer will emerge.
Another straight up action/horror novel, Book of Fours will leave your skin crawling as you imagine what the show’s low budget interpretation of such cataclysmic events would look like.
These Our Actors by Ashley McConnell
Remember at the end of Season 4 when Willow was totes excited to take drama class next year with Buffy? And then Buffy later dropped the class like a bitch because of her tumultuous personal life? Yeah. This book picks up on that dangling plot thread and weaves together something quite charming, actually.
It turns out Willow keeps the class because she loves how the teacher, Professor Addams, incorporates the history of magic rituals and chanting in his lectures on theater history. When he notices that his latest student has her own powers, he plans to use them to his advantage. When he does, only Spike can come to her rescue.
This book can never be canon or in-continuity ever because of one big thing: Cecily, William the Bloody’s big crush. In the show, she became Halfrek. In this book, she encounters a different fate that’s told through a series of Spike-centered flashbacks. Not going to spoil anything. Just read it anyway. It’s pretty neat.
Apocalypse Memories by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz
This is my personal favorite Buffy novel ever. It takes place at a very specific point during Season 7, which is a good indication that it’s written by true die-hard fans of the show. In fact, it was – Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz, who also just so happen to be the creators of Roswell (the books and the subsequent TV series that migrated from the WB to UPN alongside Buffy in the early aughts). Who’da thunk?
The novel picks up immediately after “Same Time, Same Place” (7×03) ends. Giles rushes into the Summers household, having just flown in from England after receiving Buffy’s phone message saying that Willow was missing (although she was really just invisible). He’s confused and relieved to discover that everything’s fine – but it soon isn’t, because the Archangel Michael suddenly appears, bringing the one true apocalypse along with him.
The one that has always been prophesized. The one the good lord intended. The one that cannot be stopped.
For me, this Buffy book is perfect because it gets the voices of the characters right, it understands their motivations, and it tackles huge moral concepts with the ease and maturity of the TV series itself. Apocalypse Memories tells the kind of layered, complex story that the show would while bending your mind a little. Highly recommended and underappreciated. Give it a read.
Queen of the Slayers by Nancy Holder
Before Dark Horse’s legendary Buffy Season 8 comics, there was this book, pretty much the only officially approved continuation of the cult classic television series that existed until 2007.
This book is controversial amongst fans for many different reasons that range from pacing to wording to discrepancies with major plot points to overall quality issues. All I can say is, I read it when it first came out and it was a long, strange acid trip across all convoluted corners of the Buffyverse.
Picking up directly after the events of “Chosen”, Queen of the Slayers follows the adventures of our Scooby gang and their new friends from the school bus they drove off in, to the Cleveland Hellmouth to the luxurious realm of The Immortal in Italy and beyond. There’s a lot that happens, with (frankly) too many villains to keep track of. But the biggest of them all is the eponymous Queen herself, a mysterious young Slayer who gathers all of the potentials that were activated by Willow’s spell into an army that will take down Buffy and her friends once and for all.
For better or worse, everybody gets something to do in this book. Principal Wood and Faith battle giant demons in Cleveland. Xander gets to go on a solo quest to search for the origins of the Slayer. Willow and Kennedy do, uh, stuff too. Dawn falls into a coma. It’s exciting!
The ending, however, might make you roll your eyes just a teeny bit.
Dark Congress by Christopher Golden
Okay, I lied. This book is the other piece of officially approved material that continued the Buffy storylines post-TV show and pre-comic seasons. But this one is probably the most obscure, so it’s easy to forget about.
Its plot sees Buffy in Rhode Island of all places, solving a mystery at the gathering of the Dark Congress, a massive summit meeting of ambassadors from all races of demons and monsters (kind of like the Evil U.N.). When she’s asked to be their arbiter, she’s forced to confront her powers’ demonic nature.
Meanwhile, there’s trouble in paradise when Willow catches Kennedy cheating on her with a junior Slayer. But when an old flame comes back into her life, will she accept that she’s holding onto the past more than she thought she was? Saying too much more about this one would spoil its surprises, so I suggest picking up a copy and finding out for yourself. Or not, whatever. It was just a suggestion. Sheesh.
Stephen Harber could never ever live in a world without shrimp. Bunnies, maybe. But shrimp? No way. He’s co-writing a graphic novel called Occult Generation right now, which has nothing to do with either of those things. But he thought you should know because shameless self-promotion encourages cash flow. He also has a Twitter @onlywriterever. We thank you for your patronage!