YA Weekend: Slayer by Kiersten White
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of Slayer
Publisher: Simon Pulse (January 8, 2019)
Length: 404 pages
Well, I had my doubts, but not anymore. In Slayer, Kiersten White has accomplished the formidable feat of writing a novel in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe that not only provides a wistful trip down memory lane but also thoughtfully builds upon the existing lore and mythos of the franchise. Since this book technically picks up shortly after the Dark Horse comic book series which served as the show’s canonical eighth season, Buffy fans will likely be the ones to get the most out of it, but still, make no mistake—this is a new chapter in the saga and thus would make for a comfortable entrance even for newcomers.
Our story begins with the introduction to Nina and Artemis, the twin daughters of Merrick Jamison-Smythe who was the first Watcher of Buffy Summers. After their father’s death, the girls’ mother whisked them away to Ireland where the family lived in a castle with a remnant group of Watchers, carrying on their research even though the world has been much changed since all magic went away. In light of those events, the Watchers have begun altering their academy’s curriculum to include more martial training—weapons and hand-to-hand combat, endurance and agility, strategic planning and the like. But unfortunately for Nina, she will never be able to experience any of that. Her mother, an important member of the Council, had ordered that she remain on the sidelines while her sister Artemis was the one chosen to be groomed for Watcher-hood, though in some ways, Nina can’t really take the decision too hard. After all, she abhors violence and has always gravitated more towards the healing arts, as evidenced by her commitment to become a medic.
But over the last two months, Nina has been experiencing some unsettling changes. She has become stronger, her reflexes are faster, and her dreams have started to become filled with strange visions. Concerned that these changes had come immediately after the Seed of Wonder event that broke or weakened all magic, she kept it all to herself, fearing that she was a victim of demonic possession. However, as it turns out, the truth is much more complicated—and to Nina, not much better. Since the Seed’s destruction, no more Slayers could be called, but somehow, in an act of bravery and selflessness, Nina had triggered her innate potential right before the critical moment. Making her the last Slayer. And although this news is welcomed by some members of the Watcher’s Council, it does not please Nina at all. Her father died because of a Slayer. A Slayer ruined her family’s life and practically tore the world asunder because of her recklessness and impertinence. And now, Nina is one too.
I’ll be honest, even though I’ve watched every single episode of Buffy, seen the cheesy movie, and even read all the comics, I do not really consider myself a mega-fan. Along with the Macarena, AOL, and Tamagotchis, it’s just one of those things I left behind in the 90’s and haven’t really given much thought to in years. In a way, coming to Slayer with this equivocal and noncommittal attitude might have helped, because it allowed me to simply sit back and enjoy without the burden of expectation or hype. Not that I wasn’t feeling skeptical at all, but that was mostly over the novel’s concept of bringing in a new Slayer and keeping the Buffyverse relevant.
Still, I should have known that if anyone could pull this off, it would be Kiersten White. I’ve enjoyed her Conqueror’s Saga, which was a historical reimagining of the life of Prince Vlad III of Wallachia if he had been born a girl. While Slayer might seem very different, if you think about it, the writing challenges White had to face in that series, i.e. combining her own ideas with what is known, are kind of similar to the ones she had to tackle here. And I think she did a fantastic job. Her love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer is obvious from the way she wove the details into her story and characters, allowing readers to feel anchored in the Buffy world, not to mention the plentiful references and Easter eggs that call back to some of the best and most memorable moments from the show. At the same time though, what we have here is also completely fresh and different. Sometimes I felt the novel’s “Buffy-ness” keenly, while at other times not at all. In essence, I thought the book straddled that fine line between the old and the new, hitting that sweet spot where the known and unknown come together. It seemed appropriate, considering the author is writing for and about a whole new generation.
Speaking of which, I think Nina has the potential to become a memorable character and a worthy Slayer, though she was kind of wishy-washy and exasperating in this one, enough to grate slightly on my nerves. To be fair, she does get put through the wringer in this book, physically and emotionally. There’s also a lot of resentment and confusion to work out in her past, and much of the story involves Nina being pulled in every direction all at once. But hopefully with a clearer direction going forward, our protagonist will eventually grow into her own.
In sum, I think Kiersten White has something great going here. Slayer will be a treat for Buffy fans but also accessible enough for readers who have no prior knowledge of the show or the characters, as long as you’re willing to be a little patient as everything unfolds. This book had a good mix of drama, action, and intrigue which I enjoyed tremendously, and it will be interesting to see what’s next for this universe and Nina.