The Sign of the Seven trilogy, by Nora Roberts

>> Monday, May 18, 2009

10-year-olds playing hooky on occasion of their birthday, going camping and swearing a friendship blood oath seems like a pretty harmless, even cute thing. However, when Caleb Hawkins, Fox O'Dell and Gage Turner did it, on a 7th of July, they ended up releasing an evil power they couldn't control.

Ever since, their town has been engulfed in violence and madness every 7 years. During the Seven, as they call it, a large percentage of the very otherwise normal people in Hawkins Hollow become intent on killing, maiming, raping and generally trying to hurt each other. It's as they're possessed. After the fact, they remember nothing of what happened, and somehow, the town returns to normal.

Caleb, Fox and Gage are among the few who remain in possession of their senses during the Seven, and they remember everything that's happened perfectly. Over the years, they've done their best to limit the damage, but the Seven seems to be getting worse every single time.

The trilogy starts as the yet another Seven approaches. The boys are now 31-year-old men, and still determined to protect their town. As time passes, and July gets closer and closer, we follow them as they try to find a way to defeat the demon they released, with the help of three women, newcomers to the town, who somehow seem destined to be there.

I've said it before of some of NR's trilogies, but I'll say it again, because it's truer than ever this time: this trilogy really does feel like a long book chopped in three. The only real division between the three is the romances, as each of the men fall in love with one of the women.

I'm a bit ambivalent about the overarching storyline of the Seven.


  • I quite enjoyed the mix between horror and romance. Not something that's too common, but I wish it was. It truly was scary, too, which I appreciated.

  • I liked the idea of the research into the past to understand the nature of the evil and how to defeat it. It felt almost reminiscent of some of my favourite Barbara Michaels (Queen of the paranormal, as far as I'm concerned).

  • The teamwork required for the above was great, as well. Each of the six had their strengths, and they were put to use, although not without much bickering :-)

  • Finally: the friendship was what I liked best. Both the childhood friendship between the three men, which has turned into a solid one between grown-ups, and the newer one between the three women. This is what Nora does best I think, and these were good ones.


  • I didn't completely buy the fact that the Seven would happen and then things would just go back to normal, and for seven years, people would just live their lives happily. Oh, I am willing to accept a paranormal explanation... the evil that possesses then blocks everything, etc. What didn't make sense was that they would be left alone by the outside world to live their lives. It's not as if the Seven is a secret; in fact, Quinn, the heroine of the first book, actually comes to Hawkins Hollow to write a book about it. Why isn't there more interest, especially since it feels like perfect tabloid fodder?

  • The actual story they discover of how the evil came to be trapped and then released wasn't that interesting. Plus, there was a lot of repetition.

  • I didn't find the resolution particularly satisfying, I'm afraid. Oh, they do defeat the evil (I'm not spoiling anything, am I? This is romance after all), but the way they do it felt a bit heavy on the mumbo-jumbo power of looooooove! and didn't make much instinctive sense to me.

The romances were good and solid, if unexciting. The one in Blood Brothers features Caleb Hawkins and writer Quinn Black. Cal is a terribly nice guy, and I liked him very much. His family has been in the community forever (notice his last name's the same as the town's?), and he loves it and is determined to save it. Quinn is a writer, specialising in the paranormal, who wants to write about the Seven. She's the perfect one to shake up solid Cal, and she does. They have some very nice moments together.

Fox O'Dell and Layla Darnell are the hero and heroine of The Hollow, the second in the trilogy. Fox is a small-town lawyer, the son of a loving, hippy family. He enjoys his work and his town, and has a lovely, playful charm. Layla is the less gung-ho of the women. Her arrival to Hawkins Hollow was almost accidental. She felt that something was leading her there, and when she discovers what is going on, she feels like she has to stay. Layla is quite quiet and low-key, and rouses Fox's protective instincts. Their romance is sweet.

Finally, the romance in Pagan Stone is the most explosive of the three. Gage Turner grew up as the son of the town drunk, and he escaped Hawkins Hollow as soon as he possibly could. Now a world-famous poker player, he's only back because he loves his two friends and because he promised he'd come back for every Seven, not out of any heroic love of the town. Cybil Kinski is Quinn's friend and specialist researcher, a cool, sophisticated woman, more than a match for Gage. Their romance takes place among much resistance (especially on Gage's side) to falling in line and falling in love, just like the other two couples. This makes for some very poignant moments, as Gage pushes Cybil away needlessly at times, hurting her. In the end, it's a good, satisfying romance.

On the whole, I think Blood Brothers was probably my least favourite of the three. The romance is nice, but there doesn't seem to be any plot. We get the setup, we get the evil force showing what it can do, and everyone's determination to defeat it strengthens. And that's about it, really. It didn't feel like there was a proper climax. I'd grade it a B-.

The Hollow was just as good in terms of romance, but better in terms of plot. There's a not-so-supernatural antagonist introduced, which helped give the book a bit more of a resolution (the evil force cannot be defeated without ending the series, but this guy could). I really loved Fox and his family, and there was also an interesting subplot with his sister, who wanted to have a child with her partner. A B.

I liked Pagan Stone best. The romance is the most absorbing, and there's also Gage's relationship with his father. After his mother's death, Gage's father became an alcoholic who'd beat up on his son for no reason. But now he's kicked the drink and repented, and would like his son's forgiveness, which Gage isn't at inclined to give him. I liked the way this was handled, in a much more subtle and nuanced way than silly "he's your blood so you should forgive" crap. A B+.


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