Back in the Buffyverse – 4/5 stars!
I read Slayer by Kiersten White on January 20-24, 2019. The year is already turning into a KW heavy year and I am totally fine with that.
Slayer is complicated to talk about, considering it’s place in a much wider universe. While I’ve watched all of the series, I have not kept up with the expanded universe of graphic novels and comics. The good news is that you don’t have to – the question is if this satisfies your further Buffy needs.
“Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.
Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.
Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.
As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…
But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.
One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.” [emphasis mine]
This was a fun dip into the world of the Watchers. They are somehow stuffy, endearing, infuriating, and fascinating. Their numbers were destroyed, so a handful of people of a variety of ages are all that remains of a society that lasted millennia. They are keepers of knowledge and some of it’s totally useless now. Magic is gone, but the evil remains. They are a people without a purpose now that Slayers have rejected their oversight. The novel does a fascinating and thorough job of interrogating the power dynamic between Watchers and Slayers. Slayers are imbued with immense power, but they were also young women basically sacrificed to save the world in a decision made by a bunch of dudes. The idea that Slayers only get out of their job by dying is repeated. The Watchers’ power is knowledge and magic – but when those things are mostly irrelevant…who are they?
Oh Nina and Artemis. Ultimately, Artemis is the kind of character who drives me insane – she’s strong and powerful and dead effing silent. If you put the whole world on your shoulders, and refuse to give it up even though it hurts and others try and take on some of the burden but you won’t let them, well I don’t have a lot of sympathy for you. I am excited to see how she turns out for the rest of the series, because currently I want to grab her and shake her. She’s being bad to herself, and ultimately bad to everyone around her.
Nina. Athena. Precious little Watcher-Slayer. It was enjoyable to see her get more confident and powerful as the book went on. Being inside her head provided perspective to the reader – she was so much more than she could see. Nina was so negative about herself not just because that’s being a teenage girl, but because until shit started hitting the fan no one took a moment to tell her she had value just being herself. It’s the lesson she starts to learn in the events of the novel, and it was so poignant.
Now, one of the most important themes in the Buffyverse is friendship. Slayer definitely tackles the subject and honestly, there’s a moment between Cillian and Nina where he is just a great friend, and knows exactly what to say to Nina even though he has no idea that’s what he’s doing. I loved it so much. It was fun in those moments to see how themes and work I associate specifically with Kiersten also fit into a pre-existing universe. It was moments like that which showed me how well-chosen Kiersten was to write this series. A lot of the things that matter in Buffy are things I know already matter to her, and can be woven sincerely into the work. It’s not an effort, she’s not told to add those things, it’s things she would write about anyway.
There’s also some really interesting things going on about motherhood in Slayer as well. There’s a trinity of moms that on the surface appear very different from one another – Helen Jamison-Smythe (the girls’ mom), Wanda Wyndam-Price (Honora and Wesley’s mom), and Eve Silvera (Leo’s mom. We aren’t even going to talk about Leo.) Helen comes off as cold, Wanda comes off as a helicopter, and Eve comes off as the perfect parent. All of them are different than they appear on the surface, and all of them have different expectations for their kids. And frankly, different expectations of themselves as parents. Having just become a parent myself it was interesting to see how what they wanted for their kids overshadowed what the kids wanted for themselves, and the myriad ways in which that dynamic damaged all of them.
From reading other reviews I think this book is getting the short end, probably because there’s too much comparison. And a lot of people are forgetting that the characters are TEENAGERS. So let’s keep that in perspective.
Personally, I really enjoyed this book. It was life or death for a teenage brain and literally life or death for the Watchers. I can’t want to see Nina continue to embrace her identities and become who she’s meant to be. With lots of chaos and heartbreak along the way. It was 4/5 stars for me!