I’ve just finished my own nostalgia-fuelled BtVS rewatch, so I was so excited when I saw that Sarah at Written Word Worlds had created this awesome Buffy the Vampire Slayer Book Tag!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my first ever fandom and probably my first ever expanded fictional universe – 15 year old me was quite frankly OBSESSED. I have signed pictures that I bought at cons and everything. Watching it this time round, aged 24, was interesting and a little hard because….it’s not as good as I remember it being (!) I still love all the characters with all my heart – particularly Cordelia, Spike, and Buffy – but, well, it’s no secret that Joss Whedon’s feminist credentials have taken a good bashing in the last couple of years, and I could not get over how problematic every single one of the male characters in this show (bar Giles, hero to us all) are twenty or so years on. Even Spike, my OG fictional crush, is way more abusive and toxic than I ever remember him being, and I’ve had to cross the final frontier and dive headfirst into the dark rabbit hole of Spike/Buffy fix-it fic on AO3 to try and recapture the unproblematic Spike of my 15-year-old daydreams.
Although I’m now viewing it through less rose-tinted glasses, Buffy is still an amazing story that did loads of interesting things to fantasy and to TV – it’s no surprise that TVTropes has so many tropes named by this show! I guess BtVS will now have the title of the Ultimate Problematic Fave.
Buffy: A Character Who Lives A Double Life
The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman
Could I get through a Buffy book tag without mentioning the one book that is essentially BtVS but set in Regency England – absolutely not!! Lady Helen is a female demon hunter burdened with special powers and a great Chosen One destiny exactly like Buffy, only…she’s not even allowed to run in public. Or be alone with men. Never mind punch a bitch in the face. I loved how Helen struggled to live her double life as a Reclaimer and a British noblewoman, where etiquette and social convention is basically her biggest enemy. At least Helen’s love life is a little more enjoyable than Buffy’s ever was (though no less complicated)!!
Willow: A Badass Witch
Among Others by Jo Walton
I like all my book-witches to be badass, so quite frankly there were so many books I could’ve picked for this question. But I chose Mori from Among Others because I think she’s the character that is the most like Willow in general. Mori for the most part is a very ordinary, studious, and bookish teenage girl, who also happens to be an incredibly powerful witch. She struggles with the responsibilities that her having those powers entails, and also worries over how easy it would be to use that power for good rather than evil, possibly without her even realising that she’s changed sides. She spends most of the book trying to work out how she can use magic without unintentionally hurting others.
Xander: A Character Who Just Provides Comic Relief
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
I think Elliot from In Other Lands has a lot of obvious parallels with Xander. He’s an underpowered individual surrounded by super competent people with their own awesome fantasy abilities, but he has his own important role in saving the world – one which seems to entail him being the (reluctant) heart of the group but also offering heavy, heavy doses of sarcasm. Xander is my least favourite Buffy character, but Elliot is like a queerer, more-willing-to-unlearn-his-own-toxic-behaviours version of what Xander could’ve been.
Dawn: Favourite Sibling Relationship
The Young Elites by Marie Lu
Ooooh, it’s only as I started to make this comparison that I realised just quite how much Adelina and Violetta’s relationship mirrors Buffy and Dawn’s (it even has all of the brooding ‘what if my powers aren’t inherently good’, ‘what does it mean if my existence has changed everyone around me’ angst!) I loved Adelina and Violetta, and how their messy relationship was characterised and grew over the course of this trilogy. Some of their more heartfelt moments definitely made me cry just as much as The Gift.
Angel: A Character Who Is Extremely Broody
Tithe by Holly Black
Oh Angel. He made watching high school girls sleep a creepy love interest character trait way before Edward Cullen. While I sort-of enjoyed Angel’s TV series and the fact that it seemed to be the place where my least favourite Buffy characters went to receive character development, I’ll never be an Angel fan. When I try to think of another character that is this much of an Edgelord, Roiben from Tithe comes to mind. God-tier levels of guilt about past actions? Check. Makes decisions about ‘what’s best’ for his girlfriend without actually asking her? Check. Crazy evil ex-girlfriend? Check.
Spike: A Character With A Redemption Arc
The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
Ahh Spike. 15 year old me’s one true love, now seen in all his truly problematic colours 9 years later … but still too pretty to outright hate. Spike definitely remains one of my favourite Buffy characters, even though I think his character development is, at best, a hot mess. Witty one liners and nice cheekbones can’t do much to excuse abusive behaviour, even if the writers think so. If you like problematic faves, and genuinely evil (hot, sexy) people struggling with their inner demons to do the right thing while snarking about it every second, then Nick in The Demon’s Lexicon is pretty much the ideal protagonist for you.
Tara: Your Favourite Sapphic Romance
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
Need another set of supernatural SJW girlfriends fighting a villainous patriarchy? Look no further than Wren and Lei from Girl of Paper and Fire. Neither of them are particularly as kind as Tara – circumstances don’t really allow for it – but they do have her fierceness and resilience, and unfortunately have to go through similar levels of suffering at the hands of plot. But… no gays have yet been buried in the making of this storyline! Hurray!
(TW: depictions of rape)
Andrew: A Wannabe Villain
Peter Darling by Austin Chant
While I could think of a lot of TV/cartoon series examples for this, I struggled to think of a book character that channels the same “weird evil uncle whose just kind of lives here now” energy as Andrew – which is a shame! Definitely a trope that we need to see more of in fiction! However, one example I could think of was Captain Hook in Austin Chant’s Peter Darling, whose real world alter ego is basically exposed as a huge awkward nerd with delusions of grandeur. He’s a gay doing it for the drama, essentially – which I think is a very legit interpretation of the original story.
Faith: A Kickass Female Character
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
I think Jude and Faith, as bad bitches who both do what’s needed to get the job done regardless of the consequences, would be the best of friends – or as close as either of them could get to having best friends. Both characters are forced to make the best of exceedingly shitty situations. I’ve always had a soft spot for Faith – I can’t help but feel like her Season 3 characterisation is just a bunch of sexist tropes wrapped up in red lipstick and a leather jacket, and that she only starts being written like an actual person in Season 7 – so I like to think that she’d be an anti-heroine of Jude’s calibre if she’d actually been written well.
Joyce: A Book Mom You Wish Could Adopt You
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
I confess that I am perfectly happy with my own mother, so I don’t need adopting by a book mom and have never really thought about it. I will, however, alter this question slightly and say that a book mom-friend who’d I’d love to be adopted by is Pepper from A Closed and Common Orbit. Pepper is such a supportive friend who looks out for Sidra’s best interests, even when that means calling Sidra out on her own behaviour. Actually, now that I think about it this book also has some great found-family feels in general, and some awesome examples of adoption, so I think it fits perfectly as an answer to this question!!
Giles: A Parental Figure
The Heartstrikers Series by Rachel Aaron
Giles – the only unproblematic man in the BtVS universe, and possibly the best fictional librarian in existence (although I’d love to see what an author would do to knock him from the top spot). For this question, I decided to choose the Heartstriker siblings from Rachel Aaron’s series, in particular Chelsea and Amelia. Because Julius’ own mother is so abusive, and Julius seems so helpless to everyone around him, a lot of his brothers and sisters tend to take up the parental role, mostly to just stop him making bad decisions. I loved his fierce overprotective sisters and how much they attempt (and often fail) to act as his impulse control.