Slayer by Kiersten White
Simon & Schuster
Pub date: Feb 21st 2019
Buy on Amazon*
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.
“I don’t want to take anyone in a fight. Fighting is pointless. Your being able to throw a punch then didn’t make any of you better than me, just like being a Slayer doesn’t make me any better than I was before.”
Disclaimer: I am a huge Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan (I’m literally listening to a Buffy podcast as I write this review)! So I was very nervous going into this book. A lot of retellings or add-ons to an iconic universe can sometimes fall flat or create their own bubble which doesn’t quite seem to fit.
However, my worries were almost immediately assuaged; Kiersten White is obviously passionate about Buffy and it really does shine through on every page. Her tone is spot on – the pop culture references and snarky comebacks are littered throughout her dialogue just as they were in the original scripts of the 90s and 00s.
“We know it’s a demon.”
“Right, but it’s wearing a fecking Coldplay shirt. How evil can something wearing a Coldplay shirt be?”
White is smart to pull the focus to a smaller area of the Buffy universe, giving her more flexibility with the rules and characters she can use. Her time frame too works to her advantage – she follows the plot of the comic series where a massive plot point has got rid of all the magic across the world. This means White doesn’t have to jump through the hoops of Buffylore (though I imagine she would have done so admirably), but can focus on a group of people on the outskirts of the universe rebuilding after a big change with no perimeters set around them from the TV series or further canon work.
In the same vein, having this setup means that if you’ve never seen an episode of Buffy the book is still accessible. There may be the odd cameo or reference that goes over your head, but overall anything you need to know is neatly explained without being an info dump and everything else becomes clear as the plot progresses. Plus – Buffy was always inventing new demons and ways of fighting them when it was necessary for the plot of whatever monster of the week she was dealing with; White is well within her rights to create her own lore too and she never pushes it past the realm of it being believable within the Buffyverse.
There is, in fact, a demon that can jump out of its own skin, which is where the saying comes from. When surprised or in danger, the demon literally jumps out of its skin and leaves it behind, much like some lizards can detach their tails. I saw an illustration of it once and firmly hope to never see it in real life.
There is a great new squad in White’s novel, all with the spark of the original series but with a 21st century update that makes them a lot of fun to read. Our narrator, Athena, has a lot of Buffy’s initial confusion and sass, but it is internalised until she becomes more confident. Her struggle to accept the changes she is going through and trying to find the balance between her Watcher upbringing and Slayer morals is really interesting.
She has a great dynamic with a colourful supporting cast; her sister Artemis is overprotective to the point of not having a personality beyond caring for her twin. Local human boy Cillian offers some comic relief, but also has a sweet romance with Rhys who offers a different perspective on what it means to be a Watcher. We usually see pompous, bustling older father figures in the show, but White brings us a teen who is still in training and gives us a new dynamic and shows us exactly how much work goes into the role. The whole gang has a great rapport that rivals that of the original Scoobies.
“If we have twins someday,” Rhys says, “we’ll give them matching names.”
Cillian nods in agreement, then claps his hands together. “Little Sonny and Cher will be adorable.”
“Jane and Austen.” Rhys says.
“Meryl and Streep.” Leo offers without looking back.
“That’s the one!” Rhys shouts.
I really do think this is a fun and empowering novel for Buffy fans and novices alike! It has a great balance of action, humour and teenage drama – a fitting tribute to the original while also being it’s own story set in the same universe. And with that slightly open ending? I’m really, really hoping for more!
“We were chosen for something we wouldn’t have picked for ourselves. But you were Chosen because of who you are. So don’t let being a Slayer define you. You define being a Slayer.”
Oh, and did I mention those big, emotional quotes the original Buffy got everyone misty-eyed with? White sprinkles in some of those too.
Are you a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan? Have you read Slayer? Let me know what you thought in the comments!