Welcome back to Tie-In Tuesday, where every other week I take a peek into the weird and wonderful world of TV tie-in novels. This time I’m looking at the second novel in the expanded Buffyverse, Coyote Moon by John Vornholt. Coyote Moon was published on 1st January 1998 while Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s second season was airing on the WB, but is, like its predecessor Halloween Rain, set during its first. The plot revolves around a group of supernatural coyotes that come to Sunnydale alongside a travelling carnival staffed by unusually good-looking workers and their connection to an old mausoleum containing the remains of a former Wild West star…
SPOILER WARNING: The following review contains minor spoilers for the plot of Coyote Moon.
I didn’t enjoy Coyote Moon as much as Halloween Rain, in part because of the wedge Vornholt drives between the Scoobies. The book is obviously intended to be set very early in the canon of the series and, as a result, the relationship between Buffy and Xander and Willow is not as strong as it becomes in later installments. When Buffy raises her suspicions about the carnival workers’ flirting with Xander and Willow and later tries to investigate, Xander’s response is downright rude and hostile towards her. As his main reason for disbelief is not developed beyond the influence of teenage hormones, his storyline here does little to endear him to the reader and plays upon the worst traits of a character who is already somewhat polarizing. Willow fares better from the situation, especially in scenes where she tries to navigate between her crush on Xander, he friendship with Buffy, and the advances of Lonnie the carnival worker. These help add depth and complexity to her character and motivations, whereas the writing for Xander is mired in stereotype.
Coyote Moon also lost points with me as I felt it failed to deliver on the promise of its villains. The idea of shapeshifters who can transform at will (unlike werewolves, despite the novel’s insistently referring to them as werecoyotes) and into a variety of different animals is a menacing one, especially when added to the threat of a pack who outnumber Buffy. Lonnie and Rose, the two given the most time on the page, are certainly sinister, but they don’t feel like real people with any personal thoughts or motivations behind their actions; this is especially true of Rose, whose tatted femme fatale routine feels dated even for the late nineties. Perhaps this is an attempt to reflect the group-think mentality of a pack, but, if so, it falls short and undermines the satisfaction of their eventual defeat. Such cardboard villains feel like easy foes, which is reflected in their hasty and unexplained departure and relinquishment of their powers at the end of the novel. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the character of Hopscotch as a grumpy ally for Buffy, especially when it was revealed he killed the werecoyotes’ previous leader over a decidedly non-magical pay dispute (I guess there’s no werecoyote trade union to help out n these sorts of situations) and his decision to return to the wild as a coyote. He pleasantly reminded me of Sid, the demon-hunting puppet, from one of the highlight episodes of Buffy‘s first season.
I was also interested to see that this was the second in as many Buffy novels to reference the topic of cultural appropriation, after Halloween Rain‘s brief allusion to the offensiveness of ‘Indian’ Halloween costumes towards Native Americans. This time Giles comments that the werecoyotes have ‘completely perverted’ the skinwalking techniques they learned from Native Americans, drawing a parallel between the co-opting of supernatural powers and colonialism. That the novels are able to discuss, even briefly, the kind of heavy topic that the series proper would fail to address until season four’s ‘Pangs’ demonstrates one of the most fascinating aspects of tie-in novels: their increased freedom to tackle aspects of the canon that may go unexplored on screen.
Overall, there are some enjoyable elements of this story, but it doesn’t meet the standards set by Halloween Rain and the underdevelopment of the villains and the rift between the main characters take away from the strength of the premise.
Rating: 2/5 non-unionized werecoyotes
Featured Image: Detail from Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season One Promotional Image © Twentieth Century Fox