The Xander Years 1 by Keith R. A. DeCandido: B-

From the back cover:
Unfulfilled crushes. Awkward first conversations. A date who wants you… dead.

Having a Y-chromosome in Sunnydale is never easy. But Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s friend Xander Harris seems to find more than his share of trouble with the opposite sex.

At first Xander is happy being the teacher’s pet—until his schoolboy crush brings out her true animal instincts. Then his whirlwind romance with the exotic foreign exchange student falters when she demands the ultimate sacrifice.

Some members of the Slaying squad might say that dating Cordelia Chase could kill a guy. But Xander’s relationship with the high-maintenance Cordy actually seems to be working out—until she decides he’s seriously harming her social standing. His crafty plan to win her back may earn him more love than one guy can handle.

Now, collected for the first time, are three stories from the hit TV series chronicling Xander’s search for love on the Hellmouth.

This book includes novelizations of the teleplays for “Teacher’s Pet,” “Inca Mummy Girl,” and “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered,” hailed on the front cover as three tales of danger, duplicity, and desire. Alliterative! Framing these is a little piece where Xander has been to The Bronze, had his clothes criticized by Cordelia, made out with her, and now has returned home to compare all his various romantic experiences. It doesn’t strike me as particularly Xander-like, but at least it’s brief.

I think it’s cute that the font for chapter headings and page numbers has little blood dribblies. I guess it’s cheesy, but for some reason it amuses me. Also amusing, but in a sad way, are the typos that made it through an evidently lackadaisical editing process. Examples: in “Teacher’s Pet,” the real Mrs. French wears a “cardigan sweather.” In “Inca Mummy Girl,” when Willow goes to dissuade the delinquent kid from mucking about the museum exhibit, she heads off to “soothe the savage breast.”

Some of the invented thoughts for the characters are entertaining, like Xander’s revelation that, when five, he once retaliated against Cordelia by dumping a bowl of ice cream on her head. Spike’s are pretty decent, but I think that’s because Spike doesn’t do a lot of self-filtering before he speaks, so his thoughts are most like something he’d actually say. Most of the rest are either:

1. Lame – Like the very generic desire to see the world ascribed to the real Ampata (foreign exchange student in “Inca Mummy Girl”) before he gets mummified. His supposed last thought? “Now I’ll never see Paris.” Groan.

2. Unnecessary – Xander, after loudly declaring Angel to be an attractive man in front of some jock types, thinks:

Bad enough Blayne’s dissing my studliness, the last thing I need is everyone hearing me talking about attractive men.

Way to overexplain the joke, dude.

3. Just plain wrong – (Dingoes Ate My Baby is unloading their equipment for a performance. Devon is slacking and talking to Cordelia.)

Of course, had Oz actually been upset, it probably would’ve been more due to the fact that Oz didn’t have a girlfriend of his own to be distracted by. It’s not like Devon ever carried the heavy stuff anyhow.

Does that sound even a little like Oz thoughts? Not to me.

Of slight canonical interest is that the photo of Xander, Willow, and Buffy in 10th grade that’s seen several times in the series is declared twice to have been taken by Willow’s mom. Except Willow’s mom canonically shows zero interest in her life until the episode “Gingerbread,” which aired January 1999. This book was published in February 1999, so probably couldn’t have been changed once Sheila’s general disinterest in her daughter had been established. It was also published before the whole “who exactly sired Spike” thing was cleared up, since Spike specifically mentions Angel siring both he and Drusilla.

By far, the best reason for reading these novelizations is the dialogue from the real episode that couldn’t be fudged with. Even though “Inca Mummy Girl” isn’t one of my favorite episodes, I’d forgotten that it has several great quotes in it. The best one (in my opinion) looks rather flat on the page, but when I hear Xander actually saying it, it still evokes a giggle: “What he lacks in smarts, he makes up in lack of smarts.”

Overall, it’s an okay book, but that’s entirely due to the original writers of these episodes. Without their actions and dialogue, I don’t know whether this author could portray these characters at all convincingly.

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