Media tie-in novels aren’t my thing. I have a form of aphantasia that makes it nearly impossible for me to visualize events as I read, and as a result, novels about characters I know from screen tend to fall flat because I can’t imagine the actors portraying those characters. Nevertheless, I have long been a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and in 2021 I started a rewatch podcast, Prophecy Girls with a friend. So when In Every Generation came up on NetGalley, I decided I should review it, if only for the pod. I received an e-ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a review, but Hyperion also contacted our podcast and sent us hardcover editions for review as well. I’ll update this review with links to any TikToks or podcast content we release about the book!
Kendare Blake has taken on quite the challenge here! This coming year, 2022, is the twenty-fifth anniversary of Buffy’s premiere. The alacrity with which my podcast has acquired listeners is evidence enough that there are plenty of Buffy fans still, both new and old. However, In Every Generation is very much a young adult novel, from the high school age of its protagonists to the tropes and plot at work. So Blake’s challenge is to write a book that appeals to the existing fan base, who are mostly older, but that will also potentially capture a newer, younger audience who maybe haven’t watched the TV series. For this reason, I tried to approach the book from the perspective of someone new to the series, at least as best I can given how many times I’ve watched this show. In my opinion, Blake mostly succeeds in writing a spin-off novel that captures the spirit of the show while still talking to a more contemporary audience. That being said, it still feels like something is missing.
Our protagonists are Hailey Larrson and Frankie Rosenberg. Hailey is the younger half-sister of Vi, whom Buffy fans will recall from season 7 (she was the Potential played by Felicia Day). Frankie is Willow’s daughter, and she has grown up in Sunnydale alongside Jake, a werewolf cousin of Oz. Willow, Oz, and Spike are the three characters from the show who feature most prominently in this book (Xander is there too, but only via phone and very intermittently). When an explosion rocks the retreat where Vi, Buffy, Faith, and all the extant Slayers were meeting, everyone assumes the worst. This only seems to be reinforced by the fact that Frankie, who up until now has been content with styling herself an eco-witch owing to her desire to use magic in environmentally-conscious ways, is activated as the newest (and now sole) Slayer. Together, Frankie, Hailey, and Jake will need to get to grips with all of this and protect Sunnydale from the monsters who now think that the Slayers are gone for good.
Right away, I know a sore point for a lot of fans will be how Blake puts all the Slayers on a bus. It feels drastic, I know, but in a way it’s also rather necessary? The most difficult thing about establishing “the next generation” of any storytelling universe is what to do with the heroes of the past generation. With this calamity, Blake satisfies multiple narrative needs: Frankie et al are (mostly) on their own, there is an important overarching mystery that might stretch several books, and everyone—human and demon—is thrown off balance by the upset to the status quo. Moreover, for the record, I don’t believe for a moment that all the Slayers are dead. As events towards the end of the book reveal, something else is definitely going on—and I am not going to believe anything we hear about that explosion until it gets confirmed by other characters, ok?
So with the responsibility firmly thrust upon this new generation, it’s up to Frankie, Hailey, and Jake—with some parental guidance from figures such as Oz, Willow, and the incorrigible Spike. I want to give Blake credit here for capturing the voices of these three characters, at least as best as I can tell given my limited imagination. Willow in particular feels very Willowy—exuberant, feisty, her intelligence matched only by a geeky, self-conscious awkwardness. There’s a particular moment when Willow is confessing to Oz how freaked out she is that her daughter is the new Slayer, and she muses, “I don’t know if I can be the new Joyce.” Not only is this a wonderful callback to the series, but it is very much something that adult, mom Willow might say.
In this respect, Blake clearly establishes the weight of this responsibility that comes with being the Slayer or one of the Slayer’s allies. Even though wonderful allusions abound, whether they are references to Willow’s fashion or Buffy’s penchant for Slayer-banter, new readers will not be worse off for missing those and focusing on what’s happening on the page. A part of me was a little skeptical of how much handwaving Blake does to get Spike situated as Frankie’s new Watcher in a send-up of Buffy and Giles complete with Spike taking on the role of librarian and wearing tweed. It’s a little twee for me. Indeed, the first act of the book falls a little flat for me as an existing fan only because it feels like it is too closely retracing the footsteps of early Buffy.
To be fair, though, such comparisons really only live in my mind. There is a lot that is different about our central trio. Jake, the least-developed of the three, is way less toxic than Xander. I was afraid that Blake might create some kind of love triangle thing among Jake, Frankie, and Hailey, and while certain tensions are hinted at, nothing comes of it in this book and I’m grateful for that. Although we learn a good deal about Jake’s backstory, his role in this book is a supportive one. In contrast, Hailey is far more active. She knows her way around a fight and can take out a vampire despite not having super strength. But she is impulsive and brash, quick to leap before she looks. Finally, Frankie is very unsure of herself as the new Slayer, but I appreciated how much she asserted herself within the group dynamic. She definitely makes her own decisions throughout the novel, emerging as a strong protagonist with interesting flaws and room for growth.
Oh, and how can I forget the Big Bad? Well, perhaps not the Big Bad, given that the book doesn’t establish who/what is behind the apparent murder of the Slayers. But Frankie’s first Big Bad. At first she seems absurd and untenable as an antagonist—yet it feels as if Blake wants us to underestimate her, and it is only after the midpoint of the book that we start to understand the threat she poses, to Frankie and to Sunnydale as a whole. So she grew on me as an antagonist. In fact, she might be the part of the book that feels the most like the TV series to me, if that makes any sense.
Some other aspects of the story and characterization didn’t work as well for me. There was a line in the ARC that read, “All women can understand the cramping.” As a trans woman, that definitely jumped out at me and didn’t make me feel good …so because I had a copy of the final published version as well, I checked and the line has been corrected to “Everyone who menstruates can understand the cramping”!! Many of the early reviews based on ARCs (rightly) flagged this problematic line, but it did get fixed and I am pleased by that. As far as the general topic of menstruation humour goes, I think it’s great to see it mentioned openly in young adult novels—just make sure it’s inclusive!
More troubling to me is the utter lack of subtlety around sexuality. Without spoiling it, there is a mystical origin to Willow’s pregnancy with Frankie. That in and of itself is a creepy callback to Joss Whedon’s legacy of weird pregnancies and other female body horror in his shows. But beyond that, In Every Generation seems very anxious to walk every possible line it can when it comes to Willow’s queerness. Blake tries to handwave it all away with a throwaway line of narration that affirms “sexuality is fluid.” So Willow’s definitely gay, but she also flirts with dudes, lol! She and Oz aren’t living together, but there is an element of co-parenting thanks Jake’s presence, and in general their relationship feels queerplatonic. And look, as an aro/ace person I love QPRs and as a Buffy fan I can see the appeal of Oz/Willow. On its own, that would be great and fine to see. But when considered in the context of Disney’s disappointing and homophobic track record, it feels like erasure: all of Willow’s relationships with women (Tara, Kennedy, a non-starter relationship with Sarafina de Witt) have been unhappy or failed in some way, and the relationship we see on the page here is with a man.
Combine this with the fact that there is no other on-page queer representation, and that part of the plot involves virginity, which feels like such an uncomfortably nineties horror trope … well, I don’t know. Let’s just say that I have concerns that the Mouse’s ownership of this property will attenuate some of its subversiveness in favour of a blander, more broadly palatable version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s really too early to tell.
That’s the rub for me: In Every Generation is a perfectly serviceable YA novel, and I think it offers newcomers an accessible, entertaining path into the Buffyverse. I also think existing fans can potentially enjoy it. However, in spite of its striving to recreate the high stakes of the series, with its drama, death, and danger, it never seems to get at the core of Buffy, which is snark against the darkness. The snark is here, but the darkness hasn’t yet descended, and as a result, the snark feels a little hollow and premature. Much like Frankie Rosenberg, this series has a lot of growing to do before it can feel comfortable living up to Buffy’s legacy.