If you’re not a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this book isn’t for you, and this review isn’t, either. If you are a fan, it’s only fair to let you know my take before I comment on anyone else’s: I love the first five seasons of the show. I think the second season has the best arc, the third season has the best balance of individual stories and arc, the fourth and fifth seasons have the best cast, and after the end of fifth season, the only episode you need to see is “Once More With Feeling.”
And maybe that’s why my favorite essay in here is Justine Larbalestier’s “A Buffy Confession,” which you can read on the Web. Her conclusions aren’t as extreme as mine, but I respect them. Ms. Larbalestier seems like a smart, fun woman. I like her structure: she wrote much of her essay while she believed that season seven would be better than it was; then she adds a postscript that shows she can change her mind. I love her suggestions for Buffy viewing mini-festivals: the perfect episodes, the best of Willow and Tara, and more, even mini-festivals of bad shows, the “Actually they’re all stupid” sequence and the truly terrifying “A very special Buffy” festival.
Another favorite is Michelle Sagara West’s “For the Love of Riley.” I’m with her in thinking that conceptually, Riley was the best boyfriend for our Slayer. Unfortunately, the writers didn’t do all they might’ve with the character. It’s the Steve Trevor problem: writers understand that strong women can have strong, supportive boyfriends, but they’re not sure where to find the drama in those relationships. They could take a look at the guy with the eyepatch in the Brenda Starr comics — bad reviewer! Focus on the book, not your own notions!
There’s something of interest in almost every essay in this book. It’s a fine volume for the smallest room in the house. Most of the writers I disagree with are still interesting — Lawrence Watt-Evans has a solution to Buffy’s love life that would never please me, but I understand how he got there.
All the essayists acknowledge that they have the benefit of hindsight. But sometimes they ask questions that the Buffy staff writers shouldn’t have needed hindsight to ask: Sarah Zettel’s “When Did the Scoobies Become Insiders?” and Christie Golden’s “Where’s the Religion in Willow’s Wicca?” are fine examples.
There’s more fan fun here. Scott Westerfeld’s “A Slayer Comes to Town” nicely discusses the different kinds of settings in fantasy. Peg Aloi’s “Skin Pale as Apple Blossoms” is a paen to Tara. Sherilynn Kenyon’s “The Search for Spike’s Balls” points to some of the show’s writing missteps.
This book’s weakness may be its strength for its audience: most of the writers love the show too much to be truly critical. But then, I suppose I do, too. If you’re tempted to read it, follow your instinct.
(Benbella Book, 2002)