Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Coyote Moon" Review

This is, without a doubt, the worst Buffy novel I’ve ever read.

That’s right, I’m skipping my usual alliterative introduction to get straight to the point on this one: “Coyote Moon” is a bewildering, uninspired, incoherent mess— and I absolutely loved it.

Released in 1998 by John Vornholt, “Coyote Moon” is the second Buffy novel ever written, and is an absolute abomination when compared to its direct predecessor.

(Note: As a source of personal amusement I’ve decided to see how many dog-related puns I can fit into this review. See if you can spot them all!)

It’s the tail end of summer vacation following Buffy’s first year in Sunnydale, and the Scooby Gang are feeling restless. They get a break in their boredom when a seedy carnival comes to town, along with a mysterious pack of coyotes. Xander and Willow find fun at the festivities and even hook up with two of the employees, but Buffy suspects a sinister link between the carnies and the crafty canines. Hounded by her hunch, she and Giles eventually discover that the traveling troupe are actually ancient skin-walkers intent on resurrecting their long-dead leader, Spurs Hardaway, from the one of Sunnydale’s graves using human sacrifices. As the night of the titular Coyote Moon approaches, Buffy must stop the predators’ paranormal ritual before her pals become their prey.

Apart from the fact that it’s non-canonical for contradicting Buffy’s actual post-Season One summer activities, I have so many bones to pick with this schlock of a story that I don’t know where to start.

With ambiguous abilities and a confusing conclusion, Vornholt completely screws the pooch with the Native American skin-walker mythology. The author clearly establishes the werecoyotes’ need for blood in their reanimation ritual, yet they somehow succeed without this key element, thus rendering the seduction of Sunnydale teens, i.e. the entire plot, completely unnecessary. Plus, Hardaway himself is a flaccid foe— in an anti-climax, Buffy manages to defeat him in a whopping two paragraphs… not to mention that his name sounds like a euphemism for erectile dysfunction.

The author has no sense for pacing or build-up. Just like one of “The Hardy Boys” books, Vornholt has the incredibly annoying habit of ending every dramatic sentence with an exclamation point in an amateur attempt to increase the tension. And when he does include action, his juvenile descriptions sound like they were crafted by a second-grader on a sugar high:

… She tossed [the werecoyotes] off like an ugly coat and ducked inside the tomb!

…Buffy did a cartwheel… and… twirled like a hula-hoop down the hill!

She leaned down and bit the setter brutally on its tender snout. With all her might, she tried to chew that weredog’s nose off!

Another fantastic failure is Vornholt’s sloppy characterizations. Blinded by puppy love, Xander and Willow doggedly refuse to believe Buffy’s warnings about the occult nature of their respective romantic interests. By this point in the series, these two have had several deadly dates, including a vicious vampire, a seductive she-mantis and a resourceful robot demon, so to have them do stupid things like willingly visit a cemetery in the middle of the night with strangers is highly unbelievable.

Their atypical awful judgment is coupled with some of the most awkward, uncomfortable descriptions of romance in a published work:

Xander tried to control himself, but he kissed like a man in a vacuum chamber, gasping for air. He wanted to consume her, to drink her, to breathe her!

Xander in particular is a complete caricature of himself— his horn dog histrionics make him sound like a whiny, petulant child:

“First you… assault my date… and then you say it was for no reason!””

Buffy lowered her voice. “I did it to save you.”

“Save me!” he shrieked. “You saved me from the one thing in the world I least want to be saved from!”

Buffy grabbed his sleeve. “Come with me to the library. Let’s sit down with Giles and—

“The only monster is you!” Xander snapped, storm[ing] off … and… cover[ing] his ears, “I’m not hearing you— you’re not here!” 

But by far the most laugh-out-loud element of “Coyote Moon” has to be the dead-on-arrival dialogue; besides basic grammatical errors and countless incorrect usages of the word “wiggins,” the book also gives us a treasure trove of terrible one-liners that sound like they came from a badly translated anime:

Don’t take a parental trip!

Get your Nikes in gear, Giles!

I’ve had it with you hairballs… I’m going to stich all of you together into a fur-lined trash bag!

And the pièce de résistance:

What in blazing underpants are they doing?!

Much like “The Room” or late-night informercials, this book falls strictly under the “so-bad-it’s-good” category— if you can throw it a bone simply for its unintentional hilarity, “Coyote Moon” makes for a howling good read.

Rating: 1/5 stakes
“Coyote Moon” is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


  1. I spotted six dog puns. Am I anywhere near the actual number?! :-)

    I barely remember Coyote Moon, but it's one of the novels I've read. Like any early season Buffy story I have affection for it despite its problems. I want to reread it now just to laugh at the exclamation point usage though!

    1. I actually hadn't counted them before I wrote this, but now that I'm looking there's a bit more than six!

      I'm glad I could inspire you to revisit the book- like I said, there's some incredibly funny moments due to its awkwardness!:)