Thursday, November 28, 2013

"Blooded" Review

Welcome, Whedon worshippers, to another installment in my riveting reviews of the Buffyverse books! 

Rather than continuing chronologically, from here on out I’m going to be working through my personal library, as well as focusing on my favorite authors. And as they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”— here’s my take on Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder’s “Blooded!”

Released in August 1998, “Blooded,” is the fourth Buffy novel and marks the second collaboration between the dynamic duo after “Halloween Rain.”

While visiting an exhibit on ancient Japan at the Sunnydale Museum, Willow pricks her finger on a cursed antique sword, unwittingly becoming infected by the spirit of Chirayouju, a centuries-old Chinese vampire. Things go from bad to worse when Chirayouju’s sworn enemy Sanno, the legendary Japanese Mountain King, is also released from this imprisonment, vowing to destroy his immortal foe. Caught in the crossfire, Buffy is in a race against time to save her friend and stop this clash of the titans before it destroys all of Sunnydale.

Like nearly all of the Buffy novels, the canonicity of “Blooded” is questionable; figuring out the timeline is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle made up of random pieces— some parts fit, and some have to be pounded in with a hammer. Taking place early in the show’s third season, the narrative references several important events, such as Angel’s return from hell. However, it’s the elements the authors tweak and/or leave out that present problems— the Scoobies have readily accepted Angel back into their fold, Buffy’s leave of absence in L.A. is never mentioned and Willow and Xander aren’t cheating on their respective partners.

Most noticeably, Golden and Holder directly contradict the show by implying Xander and Cordy are gettin’ busy, while we know that Xander remains a virgin until his encounter with a certain salacious Slayer.

It never gets old...

Apparently the authors were clued in to some of Season Three’s plotlines before writing “Blooded,” but had to extrapolate their own ideas, so these minor inconsistencies can be forgiven… although you’d think after the Scooby Gang’s past museum experience, they’d be more wary of handling mysterious artifacts.

In a refreshing change of pace, Willow takes center stage here. During the prologue, she freezes up when she’s attacked by what we first assume are vampires, but turn out to be everyday muggers. Her deer-in-the-headlights reaction causes her to feel helpless and vulnerable, insecurities which later factor into the main narrative. It’s these convincing character developments that inject the book with a substantial sense of maturity. The authors emphasize the Scoobies’ strong bond of friendship, which lead to some heartfelt moments:

“Aw, c’mon, Rosenberg,” Xander said, as a tear trickled down her cheek. He pulled her against his chest, kissed her on the top of her head. “It’s okay.”

“No. It’s not. Because this kind of stuff is going to keep happening to me,” Willow said, letting the tears flow… “I’m useless, Xander. A liability. Half the time Buffy has to risk her life to save me, and—“

“—and the other half, she has to save me,” Xander finished, trying to get her to meet his eyes. 

It’s these scenes that give “Blooded” dramatic weight and bring to mind other moving interactions between the characters.

*Sniff* Who's cutting onions in here?!

Still, the book’s not all heavy moments— Golden and Holder once more bring their signature spot-on Buffy humor and characterizations to the table. The book’s expanded cast, which includes Angel, Oz, and Cordelia, allows the authors to entertain with more witty exchanges, Xander and Cordy’ love-hate romantic bickering being a standout.  

Additional comedic elements include several self-aware jokes acknowledging the Buffy actors’ other roles— be on the lookout for an Armin Shimmerman “Star Trek” reference and a humorously-named Sunnydale High math teacher.

Another welcome addition is the expanded role of the Watcher’s Council, as Giles receives research assistance from his colleagues in France, Germany and Japan. This positive portrayal brings more diversity to the organization and is a welcome contrast to the arrogant, egotistical Council members we saw in the series.  

Grumpy old (white) men

In terms of villains, Golden and Holder once again deliver with not one, but two monumental menaces.

Chirayouju is former human sorcerer who willingly became a vampire in his power-hungry quest for immortality. During his conquest of Asia, he kills the favored maiden in a village under the care and protection of Sanno, a local benevolent elemental deity. Blinded by his fury, Sanno swears revenge, setting these two on a collateral-heavy collision course.

Both antagonists are heavy-hitters— Sanno is a master swordsman and can cause earthquakes and thunderstorms. As a practicioner of the dark arts, Chirayouju can hypnotize his opponents, fly long distances and conjure fireballs and lightning. Since Chirayouju performs these feats while in Willow’s body, his latter two powers eerily foreshadow her later turn to the dark side.

Let's get ready to rumble!

“Blooded” is immersed in Oriental lore— Golden and Holder creatively explore the untapped potential of Asian mythology briefly glimpsed in the show during the Boxer Rebellion. Several chapters feature flashbacks detailing the first confrontation between Chirayouju and Sanno, which culminates in an epic big-budget, castle-storming battle. This background demonstrates their immense destructive capabilities and fleshes them out to be more than one-note villains.

Due to the medieval setting, “Blooded” delves into distinctly darker fare than “Halloween Rain,” and straddles the line between young adult and adult novel:

Below them, in an enormous pit, five hundred men screamed as serpents and starved rats attacked them, biting and clawing, stinging, shredding. Around the perimeter, the… guards thrust their spears at anyone who attempted to scrabble out of the death trap. Not that they could escape. The walls were straight and high, and… slick with blood.

Despite its excellent story and tone, I do have a couple criticisms of the book.

First, Oz is criminally underused. At this point in the show, Oz is a member of the Scoobies, yet Buffy and Cordy exclude him when Willow and Xander are in danger. It’s explained that he’s going through his werewolf cycle, but this plot point feels like a cop-out— he should either have had a major role in the story or none at all, as his minimal involvement feels like a tease.

The flashback sections, while quite interesting, needed designations like chapter headings, as the transitions are sudden and a bit confusing in the flow of the narrative.

The climactic final battle could’ve been tightened up a bit, as the lengthy descriptions of Chirayoju and Sanno’s frantic fighting eventually became tedious and formulaic.

And finally, while most of the romantic relationships are handled well, Buffy and Angel’s tender moments get a bit… sappy:

He was an outcast among vampires… and sometimes her love was all that sustained him… He kissed her, tentatively at first, then with more passion. She answered back, and he held her tightly. With all his heart, he wanted to be exactly what she needed. But he was a vampire, a half-demon with a human soul warring against the darkness within every moment of every day.

Those lines give even Harlequin a run for their money...

Golden and Holder’s follow-up novel is another excellent entry in the Buffy mythos. Boasting an adult take on the characters and challenging the audience with a darker, more robust mythology, the authors demonstrate their mastery of the material. The thought-provoking title itself implies multiple levels of meaning within the narrative— the ties that bind the Scoobies’ surrogate family, the heated hormones of the romantic entanglements and the heightened violence and higher stakes. To state simply, “Blooded” is bloody good.

Rating: 4/5 stakes

“Blooded” is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Be sure to follow the authors via their social media!

Christopher Golden
Nancy Holder

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