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"What happens when the white hats pratice black magick?" asks the cover of THE WISDOM OF WAR. Well, who knows, since that isn't really what the novel is about, despite the alleged good guys not being 100% pure.

In some ways, THE WISDOM OF WAR is a typical Christopher Golden BUFFY novel, with several of his usual themes all present and correct.

For a start, there's the supposed "epic" end-of-the-world setting. Now, clearly, a novel doesn't have the sort of budget limitation that a television series has, but it does have one important restriction - continuity.

On television, BUFFY can put its regulars characters in danger and, on occasions, some of them don't survive. Obviously, a spin-off novel can put them in danger, but we all know they're going to survive. Therefore, making the threats seem bigger and badder than we see on television can be problematic since all none of the regulars can be killed off.

Other Golden traits that crop up here are Quentin Travers and the Watchers' Council as the bad guys and two demon races in Sunnydale, with one effectively the "good" guys. (Although, admittedly, both of those ideas cropped up in the comics, and not everyone reads those.)

If all that sounds negative, there is a lot about THE WISDOM OF WAR that's enjoyable. Golden knows how to pace a story well and despite my comments about supposed "epics", this is a substantial story (the novel clocks in at 400 pages, although the cover price is a penny shy of seven quid and for that money you'd expect a lot).

Set in the second half of season 5, but before I WAS MADE TO LOVE YOU, the story starts with sea lions congregating on the shores of Sunnydale. Before long, there's a series of mysterious deaths around the docks and on various boats in the vicinity.

Of course, the Council know more than they're letting on and before long it seems as if every one with a vaguely vested interest is heading to Sunnydale, including the Council and rival organisation the Order of Sages, both of whom have their own solution to the problem.

The front cover - and the blurb on the back cover - reveal that the novel also features Faith, and since the story supposedly takes place during the second half of season 5, this clearly causes the sort of continuity problems referred to earlier. Not only does Golden have to find a way of springing her from jail, but he also has to put her back there at the end of the novel.

Faith is probably one of the novel's weaker elements. She's not characterised that well, with little of the atonement and facing up to her past that you'd expect at this point in the series' history. In fact, the threat didn't really seem to warrant her there at all, although I guess Travers' machinations and Buffy's independence probably just about justify her inclusion.

Just as Faith's character seems a season or two out of date, so does Xander. Golden isn't the only writer to overdo his quipping, but it feels out of place here. Dawn isn't featured that strongly, apart from some concern about the sea lions, but the rest of the Scoobies - Anya, Tara and Willow are all accounted for.

Willow isn't particularly well done either, although Tara is better. However, all the references to her and Willow's relationship seemed a bit too "right on" and slightly laboured in order to make a point, especially the scenes in the hospital.

It's not perfect - there's a bit too much padding and novels aren't necessarily the best medium for action scenes - but THE WISDOM OF WAR is fairly enjoyable, despite all its faults. BACK TO THE TOP


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RATING: 7/10