Blackout by Keith R. A. DeCandido: C-

blackoutFrom the back cover:
New York City in 1977 is vampire heaven. Serial killer Son of Sam is often blamed for their hits, and a citywide blackout gives them free reign of the streets, allowing them to get away with murder. Spike and his beloved Drusilla are in the Big Apple taking advantage of the situation, as is Vampire Slayer Nikki Wood, who has hunkered down with her son, Robin, in a Times Square apartment where she thinks they’ll be safe.

But no matter where she goes, Nikki has to watch her back. Spike has only one thing on his mind: to slay a Slayer. Adding to Spike’s list of challenges is a corrupt local vampire community that catches wind of his presence, and when they start messing with him, things get bloody interesting.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that “Fool for Love” is one of the best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Occurring near the beginning of the fifth season, this episode finds Buffy asking Spike how exactly he managed to best two Slayers in his time and Spike concluding that, in the end, all Slayers have a death wish. The themes of this episode tie in with the magnificent fifth season finale, “The Gift,” and it’s incredibly important for the characters concerned and the series as a whole.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the tie-in novel that fleshes out Spike’s encounter with Nikki Wood, the second Slayer to meet death at his hands, is so crappy.

The plot isn’t too bad: we first meet Nikki in 1973 when she learns about her destiny and begins training, and pick up with her later in 1977 when she’s quite the badass and a local folk hero, preferring to live amidst the poor and disenfranchised of New York rather than with her Watcher, whose swanky place is located in a neighborhood where the residents can depend on police protection. A vampire-led criminal organization is her chief bane, and Spike becomes problem number two. They have a series of charged meetings and only after she cleverly uses him to exterminate her other foes do they finally have that climactic battle on the subway depicted in “Fool for Love.”

It seems that DeCandido has done his work making the narrative fit the two times we see Nikki and Spike in the series (she also appears in season seven’s “Lies My Parents Told Me”) as well as incorporating the 1977 blackout into the story. Spike and Dru sound mostly like themselves—though DeCandido gets the color of her eyes wrong—and it’s clear that Nikki is resourceful and special.

So… what’s the problem? DeCandido cannot write a non-stereotypical black character to save his life! Every single male black person is wearing outlandish, pimp-like attire, sporting an afro, and talking jive. Nikki’s the only female black character we see, but she is consistently being compared to heroines of blaxploitation films and greeted with hails like, “Right on, Big Mamma Jamma!” Maybe the dialogue is the result of DeCandido’s misguided efforts to evoke a seventies feel by loading every single sentence with period-appropriate slang, but it’s cringe-inducing. Here’s Nikki’s first line as an example:

No, sugar, they ain’t got nothin’ to do with that cat. Don’t worry, they’re gone and they ain’t never comin’ back, you dig?

In the end, what could’ve been a fairly decent story is ruined by DeCandido’s writing, which I can describe as nothing less than embarrassing. I feel like I ought to apologize to African-Americans on his behalf.

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