Slayer takes the Buffy mythos, expands it, then produces a great ride


We’ll stake a claim: Kiersten White’s new addition to the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is refreshing and hits the tone of the series at its best.

As the years have worn on, the appeal of Buffy the Vampire Slayer may have lost its luster for some. Sure, it’s still the genesis of an iconic heroine, but as Joss Whedon’s profile has risen, so have his hangups and generally weird proclivities (like Bruce, Natasha, and Natasha’s hangup about having children that’s never come up again after Avengers: Age of Ultron). It’s hard to separate the work from the creator sometimes. Fortunately, Kiersten White’s Slayer, out this week from Simon Pulse, does not ask you to forget the weirdness of Whedon — but it does the job anyway, because it’s just that good.

Part of it is that Buffy is not the focus of the story. Well, more accurately, Buffy is a focus of the story, because our actual main character, Nina, has some strong feelings about the blonde Slayer. However, this is Nina’s tale to resolve, because she’s grown up as part of the Watchers, although she specializes in medical care.

Well, more accurately, that’s what she’s been allowed to do. Surprise: Nina’s a Potential … and she’s been activated as a Slayer thanks to Buffy being Buffy. For those concerned that there’s a certain level of knowledge required to enter, you don’t need to know much more than that girls can become Slayers; Buffy has made it so there is no longer just one Slayer in the world, and this is where Nina’s whole problem comes in. If you’re familiar with the comics, you’ll likely enjoy the references to the events of Season Eight in particular.

Licensed novels can pose a challenge, and White has made a name for herself in her ability to write some seriously dark YA fiction (hello, The Conqueror’s Saga). While Buffy has its darkness, it also has a sense of humor, and White mixes the two with a deft hand, only resorting to Buffy Speak rarely.

Moreover, there are some thorny topics dealt with here. It’s not just the usual wrestling with destiny. Nina has some very real family issues with her twin sister as well as her mother, and they’re not treated as just being there to add drama. (Granted, how could they when Nina’s from a Watcher family?)

Additionally, White picks up on the representation Buffy had in the ’90s and then updates it, adding in important characters in Nina’s world who just happen to be LGBTQ in some way, as well as a significant character of color in the form of Cillian (who doesn’t even die; looking at you, Kendra). None of this defines them in any way. For example, it’s casually mentioned that Cillian has a British-Nigerian mother; the book doesn’t explore what his experience might be like in-depth, but nor is he shunted to the sidelines or only brought out on occasion.

There are some weaknesses here, though. It’s a YA novel, and it can occasionally read a little young even for the genre. Part of this is due to Nina, who is quite young at only 16. (Sure, Buffy isn’t much older at the start of the series, but Nina’s pretty sheltered.) Additionally, what seems to be the big twist of the story is pretty heavily telegraphed. That could be a holdover from the series, so it’s not the worst. However, for a story that’s otherwise solid in its character beats, it’s a let down.

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All in all, though?

Slay on, Nina. Slay on.