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The Darkening is the first installment in Pocket Books' Wicked Willow series, a three-part story based on the idea that Willow isn't brought back from the dark side after Tara is killed by Warren.

The first part of the book follows the events from Tara's death through to Giles confronting Willow in the Magic Box. However, instead of the Watcher managing to bring her down, in this alternate universe, Willow absorbed his power and stayed Evil.

This sets up the basic premise of the trilogy: "what if Evil Willow was never stopped?" In place of yet another Big Bad or, as the books so often give us, a Small to Medium Bad, this time we've got one of the Scooby Gang going bad. Majorly bad.

Willow's power is certainly impressive. As on TV the Magic Box is destroyed, but she also manages to seriously injure Buffy and put Giles into a wheelchair. Freed from the ususal restraint that nothing permanent happens to the regulars, it'll be interesting to see how far Navarro is prepared to go on this front. For once, not every regular has to make it to the last page so, for once, life-or-death situations really can be life or death.

Other aspects of Willow's behaviour fulfill the typical Big Big role, such as acquiring and fortifying a base and gathering followers and knowledge for the battle ahead. She even manages to find time to snag a pair of familiar faces to act as pets.

Her intentions have also changed from the Evil Willow we saw on television. Instead of wanting to destroy the world, she wants to bring Tara back from the dead, despite being told that it's impossible (including by the Ghost of Tara, who haunts her for much of the book).

The Darkening is only the first part in the trilogy, so there's a sense of setting things up for the rest of the series. However, there is a sense that apart from Giles' injury, things don't really change much over the course of the novel: Willow assembles a coven that's partially destroyed by the Scooby Gang, the Scooby Gang are unable to defeat her but neither has Willow got the upper hand (especially when Tara stops her from attacking Buffy).

So, a decent opener, although I just hope subsequent installments don't suffer from the long Doctor Who story syndrome with the action standing still while Navarro pads the story out to the required page count. back to the top

WICKED WILLOW #1:
THE DARKENING

Written by YVONNE NAVARRO

POCKET BOOKS

£6.99


RATING: 7/10


NEXT RELEASE:
SHATTERED TWILIGHT