If the Apocalypse comes, text me.
Okay, so that’s not the exact line, but as beepers have become a relic of the past, it’s hard not to wonder what a Millennial slayer would be like. Buffy fans are lucky enough that the world of slayers is back. With New York Times Bestselling author Kiersten White at the helm, Slayer and Chosen are not about the Sunnydale you remember.
We all know the drill: Into each generation, a Slayer is born… Slayers were created by men. They put demonic power into a young girl and threw her out into the world to fight demons and the forces of darkness. When she dies, her power moves on to the next Chosen One.
Fast forward thousands of years to circa-now and Buffy has broken the rules (as always). There are now hundreds, thousands of Chosen Ones. Not all of them know what to do with their power, but one thing is for sure, the world will never be the same. One of the themes Slayer handles so well is Buffy versus Every Mistake Ever. One such mistake was ending magic. (Spoiler alert, but also, it’s been a decade.) Granted, Buffy did save the world (again), but now all magic is gone from Earth. At the very last second of that cataclysmic event, a final slayer was called, and that girl is Nina Smythe, the daughter of two Watchers. Finally! A Slayer that might actually listen to her Watcher. Or so they thought…
If you know your Buffy mythology, the Watchers are the organization that, well, watch the Slayer. They train her, protect her, guide her. And they bury her. Nina (Athena) and her sister Artemis have grown up with the Watchers Academy in a remote part of Ireland. Years after Buffy stopped the First Evil the last living Watchers were forced into hiding. Nina has never felt more anger in her whole life. That anger is a strong undercurrent, which White handles deftly. Because her mom didn’t want to train her to be a Watcher, Nina is the castle medic. She heals people and she rejects the violent nature of her world, which is major suckage considering she’s now the very last of the Slayer line. With great powers comes great doom a-calling, and a prophecy—it would not be Buffy without a prophecy—that threatens to destroy the precarious stability of Nina’s life.
Here’s why Kiersten White’s Slayer duology is the return to the Buffyverse we deserve.
WELCOME TO THE HELLMOUTH
While Nina, Artemis, and their whole gang are new characters, they are an extension of characters which stalwart fans will surely recognize as Easter eggs. Does the surname Wyndam-Pryce ring a bell? Gwendolyn Post? But worry not. If you’re new to the world, you won’t feel lost.
This is the last living generation of Watchers. The council has been reduced to a handful of older people who have lost hope or are so desperate to cling to the old ways that they impede Nina from moving forward with her new slayer abilities. This castle isn’t like the Hellmouth in California, but there is danger lurking around the grounds including hellhounds, an underground demonic fighting ring, and a Whole Foods-like store which uses demon parts for teas and other overpriced commodities. With the end of magic, the demonic and human worlds are forced to come together. This evolution forces slayers to team up with the underbelly of society. I mean, Buffy always had supernatural creatures on her team. But Nina comes from a long line of Watchers and that isn’t going to fly. Now she’s a slayer. Her instincts to heal are in direct opposition with her urge to fight first and ask questions later. Watching Nina grow and develop as a character is a joy. She sees the gray areas between good and evil which Watchers have never been good at. White gives each situation nuance and compassion, showing that being born into a destiny doesn’t determine your capability for the light or dark side.
WHAT WOULD BUFFY DO?
For those who come the series because of Buffy Summers specifically, you won’t be disappointed. Though she isn’t physically there, her presence is always felt. Remember how the slayers have prophetic dreams? Well, now that there are so many girls, they have joint dreams. They share their pains and traumas, their loves and fears. Their anger. Mostly their anger. It is such a relief to see these angry girls given room to exist and feel on the page. For someone like Nina who has always been the docile twin, the girl who is weak and needs saving, it is an outlet. Sure, it’s a big scary place where strangers get to weigh in on your most intimate dream moments. It certainly makes dreaming about a crush awkward. But, it gives her an insight to the girls she hates. Nina has always hated slayers. Her father was Buffy’s first slayer and he sacrificed himself for the girl who would save the world by breaking all the rules and magic. After Nina’s dad’s death, the hits didn’t stop coming. Just like Buffy.
Nina’s mom is a Watcher, and even though they’ve always been stodgy and British, her mom’s level of coldness gave Nina some serious maternal issues. Family is complicated enough. Then you add murder, vampires, prophecies, and the fate of the world—what kind of normalcy is that? Nina’s anger towards the women in her life shapes the way she sees herself. It’s an exploration of who girls get to be when they have power. Her mother is distant. Her sister is physically strong and dominant. Her enemies (of course it’s a Wyndam-Pryce) are cruel. But these women are allowed to appear in multitudes. Like the Slayers themselves. Just like Buffy.
Buffy made mistake after mistake. She chose to surround herself with friends even if the Slayer is always supposed to walk alone. She chose love. She also chose the world. Nina has never understood Buffy’s reckless ways or decisions. In Nina’s Watcher world, rules are there for a reason. How does a girl with unlimited strength keep making wrong choices? Nina’s confrontation with the idea of the “perfect Slayer” and “the Watcher who does everything right” is called into question. Could it be that maybe, she’s just like Buffy?
ONCE MORE WITH FEELING
The heart of the premise—for both the book and the Buffyverse—revolves around the relationship between girls and power. Who gets to wield it? Who gets to ignore it? When the world around you changes you on a molecular level, do you fight that change or embrace it? Nina doesn’t have to face her new reality alone and neither did Buffy, but to what end? Slayers aren’t built for happy endings and no one knows that more than Nina and her New Scooby Squad. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t put up a hell of a fight for whatever big bad is headed their way.
Where Slayer sets us up for Nina’s fight against evil, Chosen pushes the Last Slayer further into the darkness. It’s a place that Buffy and Faith have both occupied and emerged from. All of a sudden, choices that should be black and white are all sorts of gray. Nina’s biggest hurdle is trusting her own instinct. Is she supposed to be like her badass twin? Is she supposed to be like Buffy? She certainly gives the fighting banter a try. Chosen asks the biggest question of the series: Who is Nina? She has to decide because a whole new evil is rising, completing some of the threads seeded in book one.
In Chosen, the burden of the slayer never seems to get easier, even when there are hundreds of girls to share those dark dreams. One of the most delightful aspects of the sequel is the introduction to three new slayers and some cameos from the Sunnydale crew that will make long-time fans gleeful. The series shines as it tackles sisterhood, family, redemption and the cost of power.
One thing is for sure. If Nina Smythe is the last of the Slayer line, then you wouldn’t choose anyone else for the job.
Slayer and Chosen are available from Simon Pulse.
Zoraida Córdova is the award-winning author of the Brooklyn Brujas series, The Vicious Deep trilogy, and Star Wars: A Crash of Fate. Her short fiction has appeared in the New York Times bestselling anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, and Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft. Zoraida was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. When she isn’t working on her next novel, she’s planning a new adventure.