Monday, December 26, 2011

"In the Company of Wolves" - Buffy Fanfic Review

I decided to review a bunch of fanfics I favorited a long time ago and haven't read in quite a while. Following up a review of a short little Animorphs poem, here's a good-sized Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic: "In the Company of Wolves" by Jonquil, posted November 3rd, 2000--February 2nd, 2001, with a twisted Willow/Spike romantic pairing. Following a shorter fanfic about season four Willow deactivating Spike's chip out of pity, "In the Company of Wolves" shows us the inevitable consequences of that action. Because of a threat Willow set up where if she turns up dead, an embarrassing video of Spike will be released, Spike instead imprisons her and takes her on a road trip to Canada. The fanfic focuses on the tense interaction between the two and the attraction Willow develops while trying (and mostly failing) to not become Spike's toy.

This is a very nice romance fic. It's got a horribly twisted premise, but it manages to capture a theme of romance without going into problematic territory like Twilight tends to do. It's never forgotten that what Spike is doing is evil. He's a likable love interest with some real feelings for Willow, but he's also an evil vampire. By the end, Willow's head over heels for him, but the power dynamic dramatically changes in the last third, putting them on more equal footing. They don't have sex until after the power shift, either, so it's not as rapey as it could be.

Most of the plot is set in Montreal. My first thought was that this was due to Jonquil being Canadian and wanting to write Buffy characters in a familar environment, but I was mistaken. From my look around her blog, it seems she's American and regardlessly had good reason for the setting. As Spike explains in the story, putting Willow in a foreign country with everyone speaking a foreign language makes her quite dependent on him and unlikely to be getting anyone to help her escape. The second reason is that due to the Underground City, it would logically be a very popular place for vampires. This allows the author to explore vampire cultures in the Buffyverse and how the older vamps conflict with the younger ones.

Jonquil's Montreal vampires have a more orderly society than what is usually seen in the Buffyverse, though there are similarities to the Wishverse alternate continuity. There's some vampire aristocracy featured, bridging the gap between old ruler Buffy vamps like Kakistos and more of the Anne Rice style of sophisticated vampire, though I wish there were more on vamps changing appearance to look like Count Orlock. A vampire bar for the younger vamps shows the usual urban Gothic motif. Both vampire cultures have BDSM themes--gone horribly wrong, of course, with true slavery and murder. A concept of vampires having formal human toys is introduced, a role Spike chooses for Willow to allow him to interact with other vampires without his ownership of her being challenged. Willow compares the vamps to the men of Gor novels, which strikes me as an odd reference. Do vanilla folks of Willow's generation know about Gor?

Every story with BDSM aspects walks the fine line between erotic fiction and Plot? What Plot? (a trap I've fallen into myself), and Jonquil does pretty well at keeping it on the erotic fiction side of the line. The kinky elements are used sparingly, and she allows the story to slowly develop. The story is set around Willow dealing with her imprisonment more than romance, though the romance is a prevalent theme. One criticism I have, though, is that there isn't enough Willow without Spike. He leaves her in solitude a lot before she's willing to agree to wear his collar (well, necklace she can't take off), and this could have been a chance to delve into Willow's thoughts on these nights alone but instead it's just stated that it takes a week for her to agree.

The characterization could be better. While it's a fun story with a woman and a vampire, they don't exactly feel like Willow and Spike. The dialog, for instance, feels like a poor match to their canon counterparts. While Spike's got his "luv"s and "pet"s, his words seem incomplete. Likewise, Willow lacks the mega-slangage of the wacky characteristic to the Buffy younger cast. Still, there is character development through the course of the plot, just not of characters I'd consider accurate representations of Joss' Willow and Spike. Conversely, the original characters are simply flat antagonists.

All in all, it's a nice read but could impove. Jonquil started a sequel, "Something In Between", but it's been on hiatus since 2001 and is unlikely to be completed. "In the Company of Wolves" works as a standalone, though, and I'd recommend it to anyone cool with the premise.

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