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As the cover gives away, SEVEN CROWS sees Buffy reunited with two of her exes, namely Angel and Riley. But, since the story is set during season seven (albeit an "alternate" one according to the blurb), this means that Riley isn't alone - he's accompanied by his wife, Sam.

Not having read MONSTER ISLAND yet, my only experience of Pocket Books' cross-over novels as the disappointing UNSEEN trilogy. However, John Vornholt manages to avoid many of the pitfalls that Holder and Mariotte fell into.

The novel's location neatly avoids the risk of character bloat. Set on the Mexico/US border, the set-up sees Riley and Sam calling on Buffy and Angel for help, but the rest of the two series' characters are left behind in California. This means that the four leads all get a sizeable chunk of the action, while the changed setting also makes a nice change from LA and Sunnydale.

The title refers to a rhyme (similar to the one used for the title music to MAGPIE, except that three is for a wedding and four for a birth) that Riley remembers, but the novel's main threats are a pair of vampires running a smuggling operation rather than a flock of vampire birds.

Of course, Riley Finn was never the most popular character on BUFFY, but partnered with his wife he works quite well as a man of action. Angel is mostly reduced to this role as well, which doesn't really square with his character during season four (although if this is an "alternate" timeline for Buffy, I suppose the same applies for him as well).

We only saw Sam in AS YOU WERE, but she also works well here, and it's nice to see Vornholt not taking the easy way out and partnering her with Riley as the time. In fact, she gets to spend just as much time with Buffy and Angel (separately) as with her husband.

After years of complaining that the Pocket Books novels never manage to flesh out cardboard characters in the same way that the DOCTOR WHO spin-offs have shown another side to the likes of Mel and Peri, it's good to see them finally pulling this off. Riley and Sam, especially the latter, are great and it would be nice to see them back again.

I actually got the impression that Vornholt preferred writing for them rather than Buffy and Angel; they're given more to do and are better characterised that the two title characters.

SEVEN CROWS wasn't what I'd expected from a BUFFY/ANGEL crossover, but that's not a criticism. The two title characters might not be at their best, but Riley and Sam more than make up for this. One of the best novels in either range for a long time. BACK TO THE TOP

SEVEN CROWS

Written by JOHN VORNHOLT

POCKET BOOKS

£6.99


RATING: 8/10


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