Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Review

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HERE BE MONSTERS

by Cameron Dokey reviewed by Shiai

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

As author Cameron Dokey makes plain, it's all a matter of perspective. In the never-what-it-seems town of Sunnydale, California...situated squarely over the Hellmouth, a gateway to the nether realms...that boils down to one person's good might just be another person's evil.

Buffy Summers is the Slayer, the Chosen One, the one girl in all the world selected by the Powers That Be to battle supernatural menaces. It's a job she never wanted, but she's managed to accept her destiny (more or less), and life on the Hellmouth has largely settled into a steady routine: Vampires are the bad guys, and they get dusted by the Slayer.

But, what happens when a vampire cries out for vengeance against Buffy, and the response comes in the form of Nemesis, the ancient demigod charged with determining and restoring balance? The Slayer finds herself on trial, charged with murdering demons. She figures she's in for an easy Not Guilty verdict, because, after all, she's only doing what Slayers are supposed to do... destroy evil. But when it's pointed out to her that Nemesis was called by an evil being, and thus might be bound by cosmic rules which favor evil and punish good, she realizes things aren't going to be as easy as she hoped.

To ensure Buffy's 'willing' participation in the trial, Nemesis has seized her mother, Joyce. If Buffy does not comply, Joyce will die. And if Buffy loses the trial, the punishment is death and damnation.

The trial itself is not of the courtroom variety. Rather, Buffy is made to venture into the darkness and to face whatever menaces she finds. And as Nemesis explains, what Buffy finds will be entirely up to her. There are vampires, as well as a few other demonic beasts, but more telling, there's a monster from deep in Buffy's past. In the end, the Slayer realizes she must face her own deep-rooted fears if she is going to triumph. She must defeat her own monsters.

Dokey does a nice contrast between the perception and the actuality of evil. We are first introduced to Percy and Webster, two twin vampires stuck in their teen years, identical not only in physical appearance, but in their clothing and manners, which are straight out of the 1950's (which is odd, since they were sired during the Civil War). They have definite ideas about the place of women in the world... as food, mostly. They hunt "dirty girls," young females who don't conform to their antiquated notions of femininity. In their cruelty, they like to stalk their victims over time, letting the girls come to the frightening realization that someone is after them, before they strike. But for all of their menace, they're literally comical in their rank stupidity and button-down mentality. But that's the twist: the reader starts to think of the twins as being relatively harmless because they're so ridiculous, and that's precisely the wrong conclusion to make.

They're also utterly, slavishly subservient to their Mother, Zahalia Walker, a proper Antebellum lady who dominates her darling sons. "Mama's boys," Angel derisively observes. "I hate mama's boys." To Mama Zahalia, Buffy is nothing more than a "brazen hussy," and it is she who invokes Nemesis and brings about the trial. And Mommy Dearest also takes steps to make sure that, win or lose, Buffy isn't going to come out of this mess alive.

More attention than usual is spent on victims (and potential victims) in this story than in most of the Buffy novels. The book opens up with a twenty page look at what it's like to be hunted by something you don't understand, how you push your body past its limits in the hope of escaping, and how your hopes are dashed when you are captured. Then we see how the human mind tries to process the horror that is presented to it, a horror that can't possibly exist outside of fearful fantasy. We get a very personal look into the last moments of Heidi Lindstrom, and in so doing, we get a human face to what is usually just an anonymous victim. We care about Heidi and root for her, even as we know she's doomed. Dokey puts us in her place, and it's unsettling.

We are also introduced to Suz Thompkins, Heidi's best friend. She's a loner at Sunnydale High School, a tough girl more prone to skipping class than doing homework. But when Heidi and another friend turn up missing, a panicked Suz fears she's next, and she goes to the one person she figures could help her... Buffy Summers. And while it's never verbalized in the story, the inference is that in Sunnydale, Buffy and her friends are the people to go to for help when there's bad weirdness (this would be underscored in an episode of the TV series, where Buffy is named "Class Protector" at the prom, even if no one comes out and admits just what she's been protecting them from). It's Suz who points Buffy toward Webster and Percy, and it's also this very human, very frightened girl who overcomes her fears and faces her monsters in the end as well.

Nemesis isn't really explored as a character, other than that it becomes clear that the demigod might be firm, but it's also fair. In essence, for the purpose of this story, it's less a character and more of a Deux ex machina...literally. There is one tantalizing tidbit though, as it's hinted that Nemesis was behind the Gypsy curse which restored Angel's soul, all a part of some cosmic design.

Given the nature of this story, there are some long passages without action, and Dokey does a nice job keeping things moving along with crisp dialogue and some clever twists. Since the Scooby Gang can't accompany Buffy to the trial, Dokey has to find something for them to do, and so she has Willow perform a Scrying spell, allowing her friends to watch the Slayer from afar. This allows them to fulfill a role as something of a Greek chorus.

As for the monsters Buffy must face, I won't reveal the final threat, but I will say that I thought the most effective one was when she was seemingly confronted by her friends, yet all of them, in a nice nod to continuity with the television show, victims of fates which Buffy had saved them from; Cordelia's face horribly carved up by Marci the Invisible Girl (from the episode "Out of Mind, Out of Sight"), Xander decapitated (after encountering the giant mantis in "Teacher's Pet"), Willow chained and with her throat cut (by the Master's minions from "When She Was Bad"), Oz forever trapped as a werewolf ("Phases"), and Angel as Angelus (from most of Season Two). She's also presented with a very real failure, Jenny Calendar dead at the hands of Angelus ("Passion"). This is less a physical attack than a psychological one, as Buffy is made to face what, deep down, she fears she might have actually brought down upon her friends because she is the Slayer. For longtime fans of the show, this an eerily disturbing sequence.

We also get a closer look into the past of the Summers Family. Buffy's Father, Hank, became little more than a deadbeat dad on the series, but here, at least, we get a glimpse at a man who loves his daughter, and who does what he can to make her happy.

Cameron Dokey has done a good job of approaching the necessities of a Buffy novel from a rather fresh direction, and in giving the Slayer some threats which aren't entirely what they first seem to be.

Here, there are indeed monsters.

**** 4 out of 5 stars