Christopher Golden,
Spike & Dru: Pretty
Maids All in a Row

(Pocket Books, 2000)

I shall here follow reviewing tradition by stating that I normally don't read franchise novels. No, really. Although I'm a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV, the couple of tie-in novels I've read have left me cold, and that's the only franchise that has recently tempted me. Because of my affection for the show, though, when I read a favorable review of Spike & Dru: Pretty Maids All in a Row written by an author I admire (Charles de Lint, in the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 2000), it piqued my curiosity, and when I saw it at the library I eagerly checked it out.

I was disappointed. More than anything else, this is a franchise novel, with all the related flaws. What's more, Golden didn't even deviate from franchise predictability in ways that were possible based on the premise (although not, perhaps, allowed by his contract): Spike and Dru in World War II, pursuing their own agenda during the conflict.

I don't avoid franchise novels out of literary snobbery; I'm a genre reader through and through. I avoid them because they bore me. I know enough about the franchise rules to know that in such a novel, one is utterly guaranteed never to encounter anything that has any lasting effect whatsoever on any of the main characters. Even in series mysteries, things happen from book to book that have an effect on future plots -- but this can never happen in a franchise. Not even a bit of personal insight can be allowed.

Functionally, though, this didn't need to be the case in Spike & Dru. Since the action occurs 50 years prior to the TV show, the characters could have changed within the book; as long as they ended in a state consistent with the show, they could have started differently and changed. But they didn't. Not only that, but both Spike and Dru were far less complex and nuanced here than on the show! On the show it's an interesting relationship. Dru is insane, but is also in many ways the brains of the outfit. Spike is ambitious but not very good at thinking things through on his own, an internal conflict that sets him up for many more internal conflicts as this season is showing so admirably. A tortured Spike trying to reconcile incompatible desires, needs, and self-images is far more entertaining than a one-note "big bad," which is what Golden gives us.

In addition the dialogue between Dru and Spike, while superficially true to the tone of the TV show, becomes increasingly repetitious as the book goes on. Very few new changes are rung; they seldom even use speech to communicate practical details. It's mostly rehashing of their self-consciously passionate and evil sentiments.

I was also stunned to see how little attention Golden paid to the period in which the book is set. He disregarded the styles and language of the time, instead choosing to have grotesquely anachronistic modern forms dumped in the '40s with no explanation or justification, and apparently unnoticed by the book's other inhabitants. Television Spike is obviously deeply influenced by the punks; having this influence appearing at least 30 years before its heyday was either a mistake or deserving of an explanation. It would have been far more fun, I think, to have seen a fashionable Spike in the bad boy styles of the '40s -- more Guys and Dolls than Sid Vicious.

There were a few good parts. The ice demon/troll was well imagined; scary and powerful, but with intrinsic weakness that made him defeatable. Seeing more of the mysterious Watchers' Council was also intriguing.

Still, I can't really recommend this book to anyone. I cannot imagine anyone paying hardcover prices for it and ending up happy with the purchase; even as a mass market paperback, it's a relatively short and repetitious read for the investment. It may be worth the time it takes to read it if you can get it for free, but given the number of better books out there, I really think that only hard-core Big Bad fans with low expectations would enjoy it.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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