Review of Big Bad by Lily Anderson
by Lily Anderson
I received an eARC from NetGalley and a hardcover from Disney Hyperion in return for a review! We also interviewed Lily Anderson for my Buffy rewatch podcast, Prophecy Girls, and I will update this review with a link to the episode when it’s out!
It’s 1999. In an alternative version of Sunnydale, the Mayor doesn’t ascend but rather blots out the sun and renames the town Demondale to attract, shall we say, a new type of resident. Jonathan and Andrew are in league with Warren—who is trying to ascend, when the surprise arrival of the Slayer makes that all go very wrong. The Slayer makes off with some magical artifacts and then invades the vengeance demons’ dimension, hopping dimensions and destroying hellish Sunnydales in an attempt to find her own. Meanwhile, Anya teams up with Jonathan, Andrew, Angelus, and others to find a way to stop the Slayer before she returns to Demondale to destroy their home.
So this is Buffy, but not. Fans will recognize what’s happening here; newcomers to the franchise should probably start elsewhere. If you were looking for a straightforward story with Buffy as the protagonist and some bad guys lining up to be defeated, then you won’t find that here. But you will find a book packed to the brim with loving references, along with some very fun characterization of characters we adore.
Anderson makes a point of interrogating the motivations and emotions of Jonathan and Anya in particular. Jonathan is a really interesting supporting member of the Buffyverse. He starts as little more than an extra, the butt of jokes about his height and uncoolness. “Superstar,” of course, introduces the idea that Jonathan could be more. And then he joins up with Andrew and Warren in Season 6, and … well, the rest is history. In this book, Demondale Jonathan reflects on whether Warren was a good friend (he wasn’t) and whether he and Andrew should stay friends (they totally should). But it’s cool to see Anderson spending time on a character who didn’t get enough of it on the show.
Anya, on the other hand, receives a lot more development on the show—and this Anya is consistent with that personality, albeit different because she never gave up being a vengeance demon. Here, Anderson embellishes the lore on vengeance demons, emphasizing Anya’s opportunistic enjoyment of capitalism. It’s fun, and her voice really rings true in her chapters.
Other familiar faces grace us as the book goes on, and Anderson nails their voices too. From Angelus to Spike, Drusilla to Darla, it’s clear that Anderson understands how each of these characters thinks, speaks, moves, acts. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I don’t often enjoy tie-in novels, but this one was easy to follow and a joy to read.
As for Buffy herself: this is a young, inexperienced Buffy. She is tragic: lost, adrift across dimensions, unsure of where home even is. She is determined to get home at any cost, even if it means destroying … entire worlds. As we learn more about her predicament, we can sympathize, but it’s also hard to discount what she’s doing. Ultimately, I like how Anderson resolves this part of the plot.
In the end, Big Bad has two functions. The first is simply to be a fun romp through the Buffyverse. As I said earlier, there are so many references in this book to characters, episodes, villains, moments … in some hands it might have felt like too much, but Anderson somehow makes it all fit and feel right. The other function is to remind us, as the show itself always did, that evil is seldom one-dimensional and moustache-twirling (even when it lacks a soul). Evil is a complicated combination of factors, not just the absence of morality but morality twisted in service of selfish ends. This book reminds us that our heroes could be the Big Bad too.
Also, there’s no Xander. Because fuck Xander.