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Pocket Books' dragging season three out to inordinate lengths meant they were free to use and reuse that old staple of the BUFFY novels range, the new girl at school who becomes best mates with Buffy/Willow/delete as appropriate.
Now that we've left Sunnydale High behind, that option isn't open to them, but that doesn't mean the idea has had to be abandoned...
So step forward Dawn Summers and her new friend, Arianna DuPrey.
High School isn't easy for Dawn and Arianna. For a start, there's the Sweater Mafia, the late season 5 equivalent of the Cordettes. Although to be honest, I'm not sure that Dawn and Arianna should be in the same grade since the latter turns sixteen during the course of the novel.
Meanwhile, Buffy has her own problems, with a late night shopping trip producing a run in with a mysterious girl. And returning home a few days later, she finds Dawn and the girl at home in the Summers house. Yep, you guessed it, the mysterious girl is Arianna.
Even for one of the YA BUFFY novels, SWEET SIXTEEN is a poor read. Arianna is not interesting enough for the reader to care about what might happen to her, and since her destiny is a major part of the storyline, this is a major drawback. Her arrival gives Dawn the chance to join the Scoobies that she's been waiting for, although most of them are pretty much reduced to sitting around the table in the Magic Box.
Ciencin's writing also displays a couple of annoying faults - a tendency to use lines from the show (especially when the meaning twisted to his own ends) and some major plot conveniences regarding Arianna. Neither really helps the reader get into the novel and its characters. For those paying attention - and I have to admit mine started to wander at some points - there's a pretty neat in-joke amongst the DVD titles Dawn and Arianna rent, but that's about it.
Few of the BUFFY novels are essential reading, but even so, SWEET SIXTEEN must rank amongst the worst in the entire range. BACK TO THE TOP