I guess I review Buffy novels now … this is an unexpected perk of starting a Buffy rewatch podcast two years ago. Not only did we give away copies of In Every Generation to our listeners, but we actually interviewed Kendare Blake on our podcast. I received an ARC of One Girl in All the World. I’m happy to report that this sequel avoids the dreaded second-book syndrome. It builds on the success of the first book’s worldbuilding and story arc while addressing many of the critiques I levelled in my earlier review.
Spoilers ahead for the first book but not for this one!
Frankie Rosenberg, daughter of Willow, is the world’s first slayer-witch. She came into her powers after an explosion in Halifax—one might call it a Halifax Explosion—is presumed to have killed almost all of the extant slayers when they had gathered for a retreat. Frankie now patrols New Sunnydale along with her friend Jake, a werewolf related to Oz; Hailey, who sister of slayer Vi Larrson; Spike, now Frankie’s Watcher; and Sigmund, a Sage demon who feeds off stupidity and oozes charm when he isn’t careful. Having defeated the Countess in the first book, Frankie hopes she can have some downtime to grow into her new slayer abilities—but her hopes are dashed when some force begins to draw demons to the Hellmouth at an ever-increasing rate. It turns out that some new player—the Darkness—has a plan for the Hellmouth, Frankie, Willow, and the Scythe that is connected to the power of the slayers.
The elimination of the slayers right at the start of the first book felt like a bombastic but effective way to wipe the slate clean and give Blake a chance to tell a vampire slayer story without too many pieces on the board. Even in that book, there were hints that this event, however distant from New Sunnydale where the books are set, would drive the overall arc of this series. I’m very happy with how One Girl in All the World picks up that thread and runs with it.
By and large, I’d attribute that success to an expanded point of view. The first book was very focused on Frankie, with a little bit of time spent on Hailey and Sigmund. That was fine—I like Frankie and think she’s a great protagonist. This sequel, however, really stands out for how it brings in the points of view of Vi and even, at one point, Grimloch. Vi’s connection to the mystery of the other slayers’ disappearance provides the reader with an important perspective that the Scoobies don’t have access to. Similarly, there are some short but excellent moments between Sigmund and his mother, or between Willow and Oz, that help us see the events and characters of this book in a better light. Much like the original TV series, this book is at its best when it showcases the interesting facets of its ensemble cast.
That being said, Frankie remains the heart of the story just as Buffy did in her own series, and there is nothing wrong with that. Even though this book takes place mere weeks after the first one, you can already see how being the slayer is having an effect. Frankie feels more mature and sure of herself in this book—though that certainty isn’t always a good thing and, indeed, can land her in hot water.
Something I’ll be curious to see if this series continues past a third book would be whether Disney has Frankie age into late adolescence/young adulthood the same way Buffy did in the TV show, and what effect that might have on the atmosphere of the books. As it is, although these books deal with some very serious and potentially dark issues, such as violence, death, grief, and betrayal of the worst kind, there remains a lighthearted goofiness that definitely resembles Buffy circa seasons 1 and 2, when our characters were high school students still trying to balance slaying with more mundane concerns like dating, homework, or being grounded.
To that last point: I did not expect to love Willow as a parent so much!! Again, Blake writes this aspect of Willow’s character as a love letter to the TV show. There are a lot of allusions, both subtle and overt, to Joyce’s parenting of Buffy. Unlike Joyce, Willow has been aware of Frankie’s calling since it happened (she is, albeit indirectly, responsible for it). Yet that doesn’t obviate any of the worry that Willow feels, and she reflects on how Joyce must have felt back in the day. Her attempts to parent Frankie responsibly and set in place healthy boundaries—e.g., through grounding—are at odds sometimes with Frankie’s role as the slayer, and it’s fascinating to see Willow, Oz, Frankie, and the others work through all these power dynamics. Though Joyce and Buffy had a loving relationship to be sure, it was definitely strained at times; in contrast, Frankie and Willow’s relationship feels like it’s weathering the new stress of slaying quite well—I’m sure there’s an entire academic essay somewhere in here about this, but I’ll attribute it perhaps to Willow being “in the know” from the outset and having her own decades of experience with the supernatural and the hellmouth to help her navigate the warts and wrinkles of parenting a slayer.
Indeed, much more so than in the first book—which I think was really working overtime to establish the world of a New Sunnydale sixteen years out from the end of Buffy—relationships figure prominently here. Not just romantic ones either!
I was critical of In Every Generation for the ambiguity it created around Willow’s relationship with Oz, what this said about Willow’s sexuality, and in general the dearth of on-page queerness in a book for young adults. One Girl in All the World allays a lot of my fears about what the Mouse might have sanctioned—I use that word in both of its senses—in this series. It looks like Jake is questioning his sexuality in a very healthy and positive way, supported by his friends, and I love to see it. Meanwhile, Spike of all people calls out Willow’s will-they-or-won’t-they situation with Oz, and Blake addresses the ambiguity a lot more directly here. I won’t give anything away, but I’m really happy with how it plays out.
Outside of the romance, we see a lot of parent-child, sibling, and friendship dynamics play out that are super interesting. Vi’s return throws Frankie and Hailey’s budding friendship-cum-sisterhood into flux, just as Sarafina’s presence upsets Hailey and Sigmund’s romance in a way neither of them expected even as Sarafina herself makes eyes at Willow (and possibly Oz??). I love Jake’s frustration with not being in full control of his werewolf abilities and how he feels like this renders him less useful, especially when he’s trapped in a cage during the climax of the book. All in all, newcomers to the Buffyverse get an introduction to a dynamic that is plenty familiar to longtime fans of the series: the slayer must balance accepting help from her allies with the possible dangers this puts them in.
This works into a larger question of consent and informed consent. Can the Scoobies really know what they are getting themselves into? Arguably yes, given that Hailey has grown up as the sister of a slayer (though Vi tried to shield her from that) and Jake has been a werewolf from birth. But what about the Potentials who were activated sixteen years ago? What about the slayer herself? The entire foundation of this series rests on a nonconsensual act—first, long ago, men foisting the powers of the slayer on the First Slayer, and then sixteen years ago Willow and Buffy doing the same thing to every Potential Slayer. The TV show stopped at that point and never had the opportunity to grapple with the possible ramifications of such an action. Blake confronts it head-on here, and it’s brilliant..
I really like this development in the mystery of who targeted the slayers in Halifax. It makes a lot of sense in the context of the series mythology. Buffy has always been a show that talks about power corrupting, whether it’s people like the Mayor who steeped in it for so long it has literally become their raison d’être or people like Willow, who come to power with good intentions and find themselves always one step away from the abyss. I don’t really think you can have a Buffy story without it being, in some way, a story about power: who has it, who doesn’t have it, who deserves to have it, and what those with it do to those without it. Frankie has always had some power and has come into new power, and so far she seems to be making wise choices. Will that always be the case?
I concluded my review of In Every Generation with the somewhat pompous proclamation that “this series has a lot of growing to do before it can feel comfortable living up to Buffy’s legacy.” I stand by this opinion but will add that One Girl in All the World is precisely the kind of growth I was hoping to see. It has left me excited to see what the next book holds for Frankie, the Scoobies, and those who would snark against the Darkness.