Start End

Review of Against the Darkness by

Against the Darkness

by Kendare Blake

Here we are! The story that began in In Every Generation and continued in One Girl in All the World concludes here with Against the Darkness. Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Kendare Blake, who will also return as a guest on my Buffy rewatch podcast, Prophecy Girls a couple of weeks after this review is published. I’d like to think I’m still providing a fair review of these books, however—and while Blake has perhaps tempered my general aversion towards media tie-in novels, I still remain skeptical on the whole.

As usual, spoilers for the first two books in the trilogy but not for this one.

Frankie Rosenberg is a slayer-witch living in New Sunnydale with her mom, Willow. Together with the next generation of Scoobies and her watcher, Spike, Frankie has uncovered the nefarious plan of this season’s—I mean trilogy’s—Big Bad, the Darkness. It’s connected to the disappearance of all the remaining slayers, including Frankie’s Aunt Buffy. Now, Frankie and the Scoobies need to find a way to defeat the Darkness and bring Buffy and the other slayers home, or else serious badness could descend upon Sunnydale. Again.

When I started the book, I had briefly forgotten how One Girl in All the World ended, as I am wont to do a year later. So I was a little confused by Frankie and Hailey being enemies and Hailey hanging out with Aspen. Thankfully, Blake catches the reader up pretty quick—that being said, I would have loved a little “previously…” synopsis at the start of the book. Those seem to be coming back into vogue. Are you listening, Disney?

In addition to the main conflict, Against the Darkness focuses on numerous conflicts and plots that have run through the series since book one: Frankie settling into her role as the slayer; Hailey grappling with her role as a non-superpowered Scooby; Jake learning to control his inner wolf, with Oz’s help; and Willow’s addiction to magic and power. Most of my criticisms of the first two books involved the details around characterization, especially of the legacy characters like Willow and Oz. Now that we are comfortably into book three, I’m admiring of how Blake has managed to make these characters her own (as much as one can make intellectual property owned by The Mouse one’s own).

Willow’s arc is probably the most salient and satisfying in this regard. Against the Darkness sees Willow embrace and work the “magicks with a K” (as we call them over on Prophecy Girls) in bigger ways than ever before, to her psychic detriment. She faces temptation and relapse, and the comparisons to other types of addiction are manifest. There’s a moment leading up to the climax where Willow hits a nadir, and for a moment I sat there and thought, “It has been sixteen years since she tried to destroy the world.” And then it hit me that this is must be what addicts experience. Sixteen years or sixteen hours—addiction is one day at a time, and relapse can happen after decades of sobriety. So my hats off to Blake for capturing the harsh truth of addiction.

Jake and Hailey’s arcs were less interesting to me. Jake’s swings towards morally dubious territory, something that Blake acknowledges but doesn’t fully unpack or appropriately address, in my opinion. (Without spoilers, Jake unwittingly causes a fair amount of harm to people he cares about, and the Scoobies basically shrug it off. Then again, that happened in the show on the regular, so who I am to judge?) Hailey’s story has a couple of layers: her romance with Sigmund and her evolution as a fighter. There’s also her relationship with Vi to consider, though that understandably receives less time in this book. All in all, I think Blake faced a challenge trying to squeeze in as much characterization as she could in the word count she had to work with: I get the impression that Hailey deserves, and would have received, more pages if possible.

Frankie and Grimloch’s hot-and-heavy romance, emphasis on the heavy rather than the hot (or is it on the hot rather than the heavy?—why would I expect myself to know this?), has its ups and downs here as well. I was really fascinated by the outcome to this one. Their initial attraction was always a nod towards Buffy/Angel, particularly the latter half of Buffy season 1. So I’m reading in the developments here a commentary, but I’m not sure if it’s a commentary on Buffy/Angel circa season 1 or just on how our society’s tolerance for age-gap relationships might have changed in a quarter century.

But Kara, you ask, what of the, you know, actual plot? What of the Big Bad, the missing slayers, the Darkness? (It’s still a silly name for an evil organization, but then again, Blake’s competition on that one was the Trio, so I guess she wins this round.)

Hailey’s credulity in the face of Aspen’s obvious iniquity annoyed me. That being said, I have the benefit of the limited third-person omniscient narrator backing me up. I wonder if I would be so critical had the book kept Aspen’s cards closer to its chest instead of letting the reader peek. As it is, I enjoyed Aspen as an antagonist, and her motivations make a lot of sense as a Buffy villain. If anything, as Frankie and the others observe, Aspen actually has a legitimate beef with Buffy and the slayers—her origin story has a kind of tragedy that echoes back to Adam, albeit with less gruesome … parts (pun intended). However, as Frankie and others observe, while this makes her sympathetic, it does not excuse her nefarious and violent actions.

Aspen’s true value, though, is only apparent towards the end of the book when Frankie ends up in direct conflict with her. In this respect she again echoes the Big Bads of the series, who were always ultimately reflections of Buffy’s own obstacles as she grew up. Aspen is a foil for Frankie, who probably has more power than a typical slayer (owing to her witchy ways) yet also harbours many more doubts. When Aspen and Frankie finally face off, it’s a worthy spectacle, one that Blake carefully sets up over several chapters before the final payoff.

Along the way, we receive the usual nods and allusions to the original series. Other fan-favourite characters (including a big one!) make an appearance or receive a mention. The ultimate fate of Miss Kitty Fantastico is revealed. Frankie borrows a lie from Dawn’s book of excuses for why Buffy was sick back in the day (though Dawn told it better). Spike and Buffy have a scene, and I won’t say more other than that I really liked how awkward it was and how carefully Blake walked that line.

Like any legacy media tie-in, this trilogy has a lot of heavy lifting to satisfy new and old fans at the same time. While I can only really speak for the latter group, I would hope that Blake’s style and voice appeals to the former as well. Against the Darkness, like the first two books, is a worthy homage and continuation to one of the most memorable television series ever made. At the same time, this series introduces a new generation of slayer, Scoobies, and story.

Each volume in this trilogy has been better than the last. I dearly hope Disney continues with this expansion of the Buffy universe, and I hope Kendare gets to write it. Frankie has more stories to tell, as do Hailey, Sigmund, Jake, and all the others I’ve come to adore.


Share on the socials

Twitter Facebook

Let me know what you think

Goodreads LogoStoryGraph Logo

Enjoying my reviews?

Tip meBuy me a tea