I’ve been a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from Day 1. My mom read in the TV Guide (remember when that was a thing people actually read?) about this new show that would be starting that would take the trope of the pretty blonde girl getting killed in the alley by a vampire and turn it on its head. We watched the pilot when it aired and we never missed an episode after that. Today I own the full set of both Buffy and the spinoff, Angel, and I rewatch them all the way through every few years.
I was most of the way through my most recent rewatch when this book came out, so I decided to finish the series again before reading this book by Kiersten White.
The book takes place, I think 2 or 3 years after the TV series ends, but there are a series of comic books that have continued the story and Slayer mentions some things that happened in the comics, so if you haven’t read them, beware of spoilers. I haven’t read them, but I’ve already had some things from them spoiled for me, so it’s not a big deal.
I am going to spoil one thing from the comics in this review because it’s the catalyst for this book: Buffy apparently destroyed something called “The Seed of Wonder,” and as a result, she also destroyed all magic in the world and closed the portals to all other dimensions, leaving the demons that traveled here via portal trapped.
A little back story: before the TV show started, there was a movie in the ’80s called Buffy, with a different actress in the title role, but the same concept. She’s a teenaged cheerleader in California living her life when some random dude shows up and tells her she has super powers and is destined to save the world from vampires and other demons. I’ve only seen the movie once or twice (it’s fun, but not as good as the show), and I don’t remember much, but I do remember her saying “What’s your damage?” at one point when he keeps insisting he has to train her to face her destiny. When this book at point had the same line, I wondered if it was an intentional reference to the movie, or if it was just a coincidence.
Anyway, Buffy’s Watcher (that’s the rando who showed up out of nowhere telling her about vampires and whatnot) dies towards the end of the movie, sacrificing his life for her. The show starts with Buffy and her mom having just moved to Sunnydale (fictional town) from L.A. after her parents divorced and her Watcher died. Buffy just wants to have a normal life, but it turns out slayers don’t get to retire. If your Watcher dies, you just get assigned a new one, and the school librarian, Giles, just happens to be Buffy’s new Watcher. He’s also pretty much the best thing to happen to television ever.
And no matter how much Buffy tries, the creepy crawlies just keep finding her, so she doesn’t really have a choice but to be the slayer.
Normally, there’s only one slayer at a time – as soon as one dies, another is imbued with the supernatural powers of the slayer (mostly, they’re just really strong and agile). But at the end of the TV series, that wasn’t enough for the Big Bad they were facing, also someone was hunting down and killing all the potential slayers. So Buffy and her friends gathered together and trained as many potentials as they could and then her BFF, Willow, cast a spell so that every potential became a full-fledged slayer so they would have the strength and numbers they needed to defeat the Big Bad, which they do, but then there are still a whole lot of young girls out there with all these powers who have no idea what just happened to them, so Buffy and her friends spend a lot of time going out and finding these girls, explaining what happened, and teaching them to use their new powers.
OK, now back to this book: The main character is named Athena, but everyone calls her Nina. Her identical twin sister, Artemis is “the good one.” The strong, capable one with all the high expectations while no one expects much from Nina.
They’re both Watchers, born and raised, and their father was Buffy’s first Watcher, the one who died in the movie, so they hate Buffy because they blame her for their father’s death. Also Buffy left the Watcher’s Council in the 3rd season of the show after Giles was fired, so they’re not happy with her for that, and also because they think she’s basically just a bad slayer who could stand to learn something from the Watchers instead of just reacting and messing everything up.
The twins were young when their father died, so they barely remember him, but they still hate Buffy and slayers in general. Their house caught fire a few years after their father’s death, their mom rescued them, but she could only take one girl at a time, so she took Artemis first, leaving Nina alone in the fire. She did come back for Nina, but the girls have never forgotten that night. Artemis feels guilty that their mother chose her first and Nina basically feels like her mother doesn’t care if she dies.
Since then, Artemis has always looked after Nina and guarded her from any kind of dangerous or overly stressful situations, while also training to be a Watcher. She failed the final test, though, so she can’t become a Watcher, but she doesn’t know what else to do, so she’s basically just hanging around the castle, training and studying without much of a goal, other than to protect Nina, who has been studying medicine.
The book starts at the same time that Buffy destroys The Seed of Wonder. Nina and Artemis are just hanging out outside when the sky opens up above them and a huge demon tries to claw its way through the gap and into their world. Both girls get away fine, but suffice to say the event triggered enough adrenaline production to turn Nina from potential into full-on slayer right at the moment before magic left the world, which means it was the last possible moment she her powers could have been triggered. That makes her the last slayer.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never read the comics, but I’m not sure what the stressful situation has to do with triggering the slayer powers. I thought Buffy and Willow had given all the potential slayers their power back in Season 7, but whatever.
Nina doesn’t realize at first that she has these powers. She’s noticed that something has felt off ever since that demon tried to crawl through the hole in the sky, but she didn’t know what felt off until she was outside the castle alone one night and got attacked by a hellhound, which she killed with her bare hands. Since she’s never had any kind of battle training, this comes as quite a shock. She doesn’t know what to make of it, and it’s only when she and her sister spy on a meeting of the Watcher’s Council that they realize that she’s become the last slayer. Since she’s been raised to hate slayers, she’s not happy about it.
Her mother just wants to ignore the whole thing and pretend it never happened, but the Watcher’s Council decides it would be beneficial for them to have a slayer on their side for the first time since Buffy left several years ago, so they decide to train her as a slayer in secret. Her friend and not-so-secret crush, Leo, is assigned as her Watcher.
Nina soon discovers that the hellhound was near the castle because it was tracking an injured and previously captured demon named Doug, who’s kind of slimy and sticky, but really a nice guy. Turns out the sticky slime Doug secretes is a kind of psychedelic mood relaxer that makes people super happy and chill, which works out well for Doug because he eats happiness, apparently without draining people of their happiness, which I don’t understand how that works, but it means he’s a good guy.
But because his slimy secretion is so valuable, some guy named Sean wants to keep Doug chained up so he can harvest and sell his Happy Goo. That leads Nina to discover an entire underworld in which demons, and occasionally slayers, are made to battle it out in the ring (to the death) for entertainment.
At the same time, Nina is realizing that her dreams not only connect her to all the other slayers, but that they can also be prophetic. She dreamed her great-uncle was in trouble, and then when she got to his room in the morning, he was dead. Everyone keeps trying to tell her it was just a heart attack, but she saw a demon attacking him in her dream, so she’s not convinced. When she has a dream that her friend, Killian, is killed the same way in his sleep by the same demon, she books it to his place. He’s already dead, but she manages to resuscitate him.
OK, if you’ve made it through all the previous spoilers, but you don’t want to know how this book ends, I suggest you stop reading this post now and go pick up the book.
So, it turns out that everyone in the castle has, in fact, been attacked by a succubus demon, it’s just managed to take enough from each of them to sustain itself without killing any of them, until recently. The succubus demon turns out to be their fellow Watcher, Eve Silvara, who just happens to be the mother of Nina’s crush, Leo. *gasp!*
Turns out Eve’s husband (also a demon) was trapped in a hell dimension when Buffy put an end to all magic and Eve is trying to gather together as much power as she can to open a portal and reach her husband. In order to do that, she needs slayer powers. She’s already killed at least one slayer and she wants to take Nina’s powers as well. She’s fairly certain Nina will survive the process, but not positive, so that’s comforting. She gives Nina a choice: her slayer powers, or her sister.
Nina knows she should choose to save the world over her sister, but we know she can’t do that, so of course she hands over her powers, then manages to stop Eve anyway with some clever maneuvering and a little help from her friends.
Unfortunately, Leo dies in the process, but he somehow manages to visit Nina in a dream and give her slayer powers back to her, which seems like a cop-out to me, but whatever.
You know that’s not the end, though, right? This is only the first book in a series, so there has to be a cliffhanger.
Turns out there’s a prophecy that may or may not be about Nina and her sister. It foretells that one of them will break the world, and the other will mend it, but of course there’s no way of knowing which sister is fated to which course of action. Someone, who for most of the book is only referred to as “the hunter” has been out to kill one or both sisters ever since they were children in order to prevent the prophecy from coming true, but of course she’s been unsuccessful. At the very end of the book, it’s revealed that “the hunter” is none other than Imogen, the Watcher in charge of guarding and educating “the littles,” which is what they call the children of Watchers, who will eventually grow up to be Watchers themselves, because what else can they do with their lives once they learn about all the things that go bump in the night?
So Imogen is staying close to Nina to keep an eye on her and possibly try to kill her. Meanwhile, Artemis has taken off with her girlfriend, Honora, who’s a total bitch and was working with Sean for a while and held Nina at gunpoint at one point, so I’m not sure how Artemis can just write all that off.
Anyway, that’s how the first book in the series ends and I can’t wait for the sequel!
What did you read this week? Anything else that explored a different part of a world you’ve been in love with for decades?