Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Review

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POWER OF PERSUASION

by Elizabeth Massie

reviewed by Shiai

Buffy

In Power of Persuasion, author Elizabeth Massie pits Buffy against a new sort of supernatural menace, one which makes vampires seem tame by comparison. After all, what good are punches and stakes to the heart against mind control?

This story is set during Season Three of the television series, which means that Buffy is now a senior at Sunnydale High, although there are no references to events from that season, including Faith the rogue Slayer and that year's "Big Bad," Mayor Wilkins. Massie also limits other references from the TV show; for instance, although she eventually acknowledges that Buffy's mother, Joyce, knows that her daughter is a Slayer, throughout much of the book Buffy seems to actively keep all such information from her Mom. And Angel, her vampire-with-a-soul ex-boyfriend, is mentioned only a couple of times, and he only shows up briefly at the very end. One suspects that Massie was restricted from using these elements in her story (which is not uncommon in licensed projects such as this). Still, despite not having all of the toys to play with, she definitely has herself a lot of fun.

The story begins with Allison Gianakous, a high school student who is upset that her recently widowed father has decided to open up Sunnydale's very first Greek restaurant. The fact that he can't cook at all hasn't deterred him, although what's really bothering Allison is that her Dad has commandeered her to waitress in the restaurant every day. And she's steamed by his double standard in not asking his son to also help out, because, in Mr. Gianakous's opinion, young males ought to be free and unburdened to go out and "sow their wild oats." The inference is clear to Allison...as far as her chauvinistic father is concerned, all she's good for is free labor.

In her anger, and inspired by all of the artwork featuring the ancient Greeks, Allison calls for help from the ancient Olympian deities...never a good thing on the Hellmouth. But she is greeted only with silence, and she quickly forgets about it.

But within days, a trio of newcomers have arrived in town: Mo Moon, the new interim school district library supervisor and her student daughters, Polly and Calli. Mo immediately runs afoul of Giles, the high school librarian, by insisting that he remove all of the books relating to magic and the supernatural from the stacks and replace them with more appropriate fare. So Buffy is more than a little stunned later on when Giles complies with Ms. Moon's request with no protest. And she's even more alarmed by the fact that he seems to be stumbling around in a haze...until she says something mildly derogatory of Mo Moon, and Giles angrily raises his hand to strike Buffy!

And her Watcher isn't alone in this condition, either. Polly and Calli Moon have launched a crusade within the school to put an end to the culture of "male domination," beginning first with having girls fill the team spots left by the sudden deaths of a couple of male athletes (deaths which the Moon sisters had more than a passing connection to, it turns out), and quickly expanding to having women (or "Womyn" as they prefer to be called) in total control. The Moon's swiftly amass a large following of females who seem willing to do anything their leaders ask of them, and there are more than a few boys who are also likely enraptured, yet they are treated with utter disdain by the Womyn.

Adding to this mystery are repeated attempts by a group of vampires, let by a woman named Viva, to capture Buffy. As this flies in the face of the usual Slayer/vampire dynamic...in which both work to kill the other...Buffy is more than a little perplexed. What she later learns is that Viva has had direct experience with the Moon family in the past, she knows what they really are, and they terrify her. The vampire reasons that the only person capable of stopping them is the Slayer, and that's just what she wants to force her to do. What Viva doesn't realize is that Buffy will willingly take on the Moon's regardless of whether or not the local vampire populations wants her to or not.

As if having her Watcher sidelined by falling under the charms of Mother Moon isn't bad enough, Buffy quickly loses half of her gang to Calli and Polly, as Xander and Willow succumb to their spell. Without the experienced Giles and brainiac Willow, Buffy is denied her much-relied upon research team, forcing her and Oz to do the heavy thinking themselves. Slowly, they begin to piece together the nature of the menace confronting them, and they come up with a just-crazy-enough-to-work plan to stop the Moon's (which I won't spoil by revealing).

Mo, Polly and Calli Moon do provide a new sort of menace for Buffy. We ultimately learn that they are actually Olympian muses, Mnemosyne, Polyhymnia and Calliope, come to Earth with the intent of eventually ruling the mortal world. As immortals, they're impervious to just about anything Buffy can do; in one fight, Polly proves as strong and agile as the Slayer, and she merely smirks when Buffy drives a stake into her chest, the muse simply pulling it out and suffering no harm. But what's most interesting about them is that in using them as antagonists, Massie asserts that the ancient Greek gods do exist in the Buffyverse, which is a quantum leap away from the usual logic of the television series, which almost never tied its supernatural elements to existing mythologies (a rare exception being a troll which evoked the Norse pantheon).

As far as villains go, the Moon trio never really advance beyond two-dimensional stereotypes. But the threat they present is a bit nerve-wracking for the reader, as it's a challenge which Buffy can't simply beat up in the usual manner. She has to use her intellect and her wits, which presents her in a somewhat new...and not unwelcome...light. And there's humor to be mined from this as well, such as the scene where Buffy meets with Oz and Cordelia Chase to brief them, Giles-like, on what they know. Reading from her notes, she begins with, "the Moon family is very messed up and very powerful." There are also some fun exchanges between Buffy and Cordy, who is in Supreme Snob mode in this tale:

Cordy: "There you are! Why don't you just be invisible all day?" Buffy: "Cordy, why would you take the trouble to track me down? It's just not you." Cordy: "I must introduce our new students, Polly and Calli Moon, to every element in our school, so they know what's what. When we were in middle school our science class went on a field trip to the La Brea Tar Pits. Anyway, the guides showed us where to walk and where not to walk, so we wouldn't get sucked down into the pits like those sloths and woolly mammary things." Buffy: "So I'm a tar pit and you guys are giant ground sloths?" Cordy: "Well, yeah, something like that."

It's also nice to see Oz play a slightly larger role in the story than usual. We're reminded that he's more than just a laconic wit and an aspiring rock star (not to mention a werewolf three nights a month)...he's also very talented on the computer, something he doesn't like to advertise much to the world at large.

There are also some small bits which are interesting when compared with events to come on the television show. It was later established that there was a University of California campus in Sunnydale, but in this story, the only institute of higher learning around is the small Crestwood College. And when the entranced Willow embraces Womyn Power, she utterly rejects Oz and literally follows the Moon sisters as if she had a crush on them, which perhaps could be said to inadvertently presage her later coming out as a lesbian (it's worth noting that the phrase "womyn" is sometimes used by some of the more militant lesbian organizations, although it's doubtful that Elizabeth Massie meant to draw that parallel here).

There are a few small plot holes to be found here. For one thing, how was Cordelia apparently able to resist the mind-controlling powers of the Moon's when the rest of her clique fell victim to them? My own theory is that Cordy's jealousy of Calli and Polly negated their powers...that perhaps in her anger her body produced a certain hormone which made her immune. But that is never addressed.

Overall, this is an entertaining little yarn that puts Buffy in a slightly different scenario and allows her to win the battle by using her intelligence for a change, rather than just her muscles. Massie is a good writer (she has two Bram Stoker Awards to her credit, so she knows her way around the supernatural), and she doesn't seem to be taking all of this too seriously, which allows a certain level of fun to permeate even as we feel a growing sense of dread that maybe, just maybe, the Moon trio will prove to be too much for the Slayer to handle in the end (OK, we know that's not going to happen, but the mark of a good writer is still having the reader doubt even the certainties). If the ending is just a little too tidy (Remember Allison Gianakous and her problems with her father? ), well, Buffy deserves a nice happy ending every once in a while.

*** 3 out of 5 stars