The authors who contributed original short stories to "Tales of the Slayer, Volume 4" are constrained by having to write about the Tento di Cruciamentum. This is the rite of passage first introduced in Season Three of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in the episode "Helpless" (written by David Fury), that is administered to Slayers when they reach their 18th birthday. Drained of her powers by her Watcher, the Slayer is forced to vanquish a vampire using only her wits. Buffy defeated Kralik, her vampire foe, but because Giles defied the authority of the Watcher's Council to aid Buffy he is fired by Quentin Rravers for violating the test rules (and because he has a father's love for his Slayer). What was important in terms of the third season story arc was the Giles was fired, to be replaced, in a manner of speaking, by the bumbling Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, but in this collection of stories we have to deal with the legacy of the Cruciamentum.
If you want you can skip this paragraph to get to the review of the stories, because I am going to start ranting now about how the Cruciamentum is a stupid idea. First, how did the Watcher's Council come up with this stupid idea? They would have to either stumble upon the drugs that strip the Slayer of her powers or they went looking for it, and in that latter case the question becomes why they felt this was necessary. We still do not know the story of the true origin of the Cruciamentum, but my best guess would be that the arrogant men of the Watcher's Council had a Slayer or too that they would rather see dead than have to deal with (probably because of issues of class, ethnicity, and/or race). Second, why would they think this stupid idea was a good thing to put Slayer's through? I do not see how it could be an improvement on the previous status quo. You can quote Nietzsche all you want, and someone in this collection does, but a traumatic experience is more likely to make you really ticked off rather than stronger. Besides, if a Watcher has not been teaching a Slayer to use their brains as well as their brawn, then I do not see why the Slayer has to play the ultimate price. So like Riker being able to hear Troi's thoughts on the pilot for "STNG," the Cruciamentum is something that needed to be forgotten and not embraced. However, that is too late now, so we turn to reviewing the stories in "Tales of the Slayer, Volume 4":
"It's All About the Mission" by Nancy Holder, set in the Harlem of 1973, is the one story that covers familiar ground as the Slayer turning 18 is Nikki Wood, who would eventually be killed by Spike, but not before she gave birth to the man who would be the last principal of Sunnydale High School. Nikki's Watcher, Bernard Crowley, knows exactly how idiotic the whole ritual is, and while Holder tries to deal with this in the story's resolution, the fact that it involves another familiar character from the Buffy mythos actually undercuts her point. Still, this story does a nice job of dealing with a pregnant Slayer, which is something I have long been curious about. 4 Stakes.
"Undeadsville" by Michael Reaves takes place in New York City as well, but back in 1952 when the Slayer is a beatnik named Zoe who says things like "Sorry, Daddy-O, but you're dust" as she stakes a vamp. Zoe's Watcher, Ian Sykes, is so affronted by her lifestyle that he conspires with a vampire named Faust to see that the Slayer does not survive her test. Certainly an interesting idea, but Reaves comes up with some other twists as well. 4-and-a-half Stakes.
"Alone" by Scott Allie is set outside Ulster in 1876 and that means we have to endure the prejudice of the predominantly English Watchers Council for having an Irish Slayer in Catherine Callan. To make it even more fun, she pretends to be married to her Watcher, Mr. Spelling. This is just one of several things that Catherine's father is not happy about. Unfortunately, this is one of the briefest stories in the collection and does not really take advantage of the interesting aspects of the situation. 3 Stakes.
"Sideshow Slayer" by Greg Cox gets bonus points because Millicent "Millie" Rose Gresham is from the Zenith City of Duluth, Minnesota, even if the story finds her in a carnival side show in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania in 1911. The idea of a traveling Slayer is certainly worth pursuing and being in a carny is an interesting cover. Cox also comes up with an interesting place for the powerless slayer to confront her vampire. 4 Stakes.
"Survivors" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch in set in Chicago in 1919, where Dorothy "Dot" Singers date with the ritual becomes secondary to her concern for her Watcher, Reginald Hill, who suffers from shell shock after having abandoned his Potential to go to war and make the world safe for democracy. There is also a concern that the vampires have their own agenda working against the interest of the Watchers Council, but it is the interplay between Watcher and Slayer that matters most in this one. 4-and-a-half Stakes.
"Back to the Garden" by Robert Joseph Levy offers a pacifist Slayer in Beryl MacKenzie, who joins a commune in Nova Scotia in 1969 on the eve of her coming into her power. So we have the irony of her Cruciamentum being her initiation into Slayerhood. So Levy's story has the virtue of having two interesting ideas that unfortunately work against each other in this case. 4 Stakes.
"The Rule of Silence" by Kara Dalkey takes us back to the days of the Spanish Inquisition in Seville, Spain in 1481, so you know this is not going to be a good thing. This is especially true since the Slayer, Esperanza de la Vega, has not only been reading about demons, which makes her a witch, but is a Marrano, which makes her a heretic. The lesson here will obviously be that human beings can be the greatest monsters of all. 4-and-a-half Stakes.
"Two Teenage Girls at the Mall" by Jane Espenson is my favorite of the eight stories. Set in Keller, Nebraska in 1983, it is told from the perspective of Julie Lemmer, a sixteen year old who has just been turned into a vampire. Starved by her sire, she is tossed into the Westgrand Mall, where she eventually discovers that there is another teenage girl locked in that night. We know that the other girl has to be the Slayer, but the twist is that Julie knows here. Those who enjoyed Espenson's sense of humor in her "BtVS" scripts will enjoy the climax of this one. Five stakes.
I have to admit that I was someone disappointed that none of these stories ended with the Slayer coming out and slaughtering the haughty members of the Watchers Council that assemble for their cruel rite of passage. Beyond that, I certainly anticipated more tales in which the Slayer does not survive. What did not surprise me is that my lack of respect for the Watcher's Council continues to decline as a result of reading these stories, all of which continues to make Rupert Giles look as phenomenal as a Watcher and his charge proved to be as a Slayer. If there is a thematic motif to the next volume in this series, it will be interesting to see what the editors choose to explore, because there are certainly other aspects of the Slayer mythos worth exploring besides the idiocy of the Cruciamentum.