Halloween Rain by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder: C-

From the back cover:
Around Sunnydale, they say a scarecrow saturated with Halloween rain will come alive and slaughter anyone in sight. (Lovely place, Sunnydale.) Buffy’s best friends, Xander and Willow, used to think the tale was nonsense—but after a few adventures with Buffy, they’re not so sure.

Even without a maniacal scarecrow, a Sunnydale Halloween is a truly horrific happening. There are enough zombies and vampires about, ready to party hearty and eat some brains, to keep the Slayer and her friends up all night.

And then the rain starts to fall…

I’ve had my eye on Halloween Rain for a while, and this month’s theme provided me with the perfect chance to read it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t anything to get excited about.

The story is set in the first season, after the episode “The Pack,” since former principal Mr. Flutie (eaten by some hyena-possessed students in that episode) is dead and buried. It’s also Halloween, which is a problem, as Buffy was not in Sunnydale for Halloween of her tenth-grade year. I mean, I didn’t conduct an exhaustive search for confirmation that she transferred in the spring, but I’m pretty sure that is the case.

Anyway, there’s apparently a legend in town that says to stay away from scarecrows on rainy Halloweens, because they come alive. After hearing about this from Willow and Xander, a memory niggles at Giles until he works out a connection between scarecrows and Samhain, who is referred to as “the dark lord,” the spirit of Halloween,” and “the pumpkin king.” While Buffy is off fighting a slew of zombies in the graveyard, Giles prepares a bunch of symbols and wards and stuff to fight Samhain. There’s a battle in a field, a barn burns down with Samhain trapped inside, and Buffy wins. The end. Yawn.

The humdrum nature of the plot is really nothing new for a Buffy media tie-in novel; usually the main draw of these is how well the writers capture the characters’ voices. Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder went on to write many more Buffy books, but I’m sure this was their first, as it’s only the second of the series, published in 1997 (before the season two episode “Halloween” established that demons are actually not very interested in the holiday). As a result, their success with the characters is hit or miss.

A lot of Buffy’s dialogue is cheesy and her thoughts rather vapid. Like this one, for example:

If she didn’t start hanging with her friends more, they might adopt a new Slayer as their bud. Or not, since there weren’t any others.

On the other hand, the Xander/Willow dynamic is conveyed pretty well, and there is one brief, simple exchange that would’ve been fully at home in the show.

“It gets worse,” Willow said, and tugged on Xander’s hand.

“I hate worse,” Xander grumbled.

The authors also seem to have a fondness for the phrase “clone that thought,” since it’s used at least three times.

I can forgive a lame plot if the characters are written well, but Halloween Rain is a success in neither category.

Update: I have since rewatched the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “The Witch,” in which Buffy tries out for the cheerleading squad. As K points out, typically this would be held in the fall and, lo, a sign at the event specifies the year as 1996. Sooooo…. maybe season one is meant to span an entire school year after all.