The Secret continues the bloody rampage of the Fier family curse into a new century, but it starts to suffer from some classic middle-book problems. In fact, the 100-year jump in the middle of the book made it seem like maybe the saga was planned as two books and later got cut up into three. There were plenty of gruesome moments to enjoy, even though I was continuously frustrated by the motives of the characters. The love stories started to feel a bit stale. It seemed like the only thing that the women wanted was marriage, and the only thing that the men wanted was revenge. It detracted from the otherwise excellent and creepy stuff. Overall, it accomplished its goal of setting things up nicely for the last book. I just wish it felt as cohesive as the first.
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It might not seem like much, but it has a big impact!
Observations & Spoilers
The Secret picks up in 1737. Ezra Fier is now married with three kids, and he has dragged them all over the colonies in his quest to find the Goodes and get his revenge. They arrive at a largely abandoned village of Wickham. They find out a plague swept through, and most of the townsfolk blame George Goode; the no-good son of an actual witch. Ezra and his family take up residence in the Goode’s old house while Ezra plots how to find where they ran off to. Although Stine never explicitly says this, I think it’s worth noting the implication here that Ezra abuses his wife Jane. She is clearly terrified of him. This establishes that Ezra is a piece of shit and we shouldn’t feel bad for what eventually happens to him.
…it was GOODE living with you, ah-ha!
Jonathan, the eldest son, tries to convince his father they should stay. It’s a nice house and the Goode’s won’t be coming back. Abigail, the middle daughter, makes friends with a local girl named Hester. Jonathan has a bad feeling about Hester, but Ezra lets her go off playing. When Abigail never comes home, they go out looking. They find Abigail dead and buried in a fresh graveyard plot… right next to the grave of Hester Goode! The Secret started off really strong with this little story. There was some great atmospheric horror with the abandoned Wickham Village, and the ending really packed a punch. It felt right in place with the story so far. Unfortunately, it’s almost all “love-at-first-sight but with murder” nonsense from here on out.
The story then jumps ahead to 1743; Jonathan is now a young man. Ezra has become a wealthy trader, and the family has moved to a new home in western Massachusetts. Jane has never recovered from her daughter Abigail’s death and is depressed. Jonathan meets and instantly falls in love with Delilah, a poor girl in town who’s father is a reverend. She learns about the family curse from Jonathan’s very talkative youngest sister, Rachel. When strange things start happening immediately after that, Jonathan leans on Delilah for support and isn’t even a little suspicious.
It starts out with strange sounds at night. Then Jane sees an apparition of her dead daughter Abigail. The following morning, the well outside is full of blood. The family is shaken up, but everyone seems safe until Jane is found drowned in the well the next morning. When Jonathan confides in Delilah, she confesses that she is a Goode. She tells him that if they want to break the cures, they need to get married right away! Now, where have I heard that before? Jonathan agrees of course; they rush to get married in town by Delilah’s father. It all goes wrong again when Ezra interrupts the ceremony armed and ready to kill both Goodes. To be clear. it’s only the halfway point in book two, so no one expected the curse would end here.
The Reverend and Delilah reveal that they are not in fact Goodes; they’re just griftors and wanted in on the Fier family fortune. When Delilah heard about the family curse, she saw an opportunity for a con. But in classic RomCom fashion, she accidentally fell in love with her mark! LOL. Ezra doesn’t buy their about face confession, and Jonathan tries to wrestle the gun from his grip. It goes off and kills Delilah. Ezra flees the scene in a panic and randomly gets trampled by horses outside? Random, but the guy had it coming. I might have mixed up the order in that chain of events, but it all happened very quickly and I was over the love story angle. Long short story short; a heartbroken Jonathan buries the Fier family pendant under a tree in the backyard in hopes of putting an end to the family curse once and for all.
The story then jumps ahead 100 years. All knowledge of the curse and the Goodes has been lost to history. The Fier family descendents still live the estate that Ezra purchased 100 years earlier. Elizabeth Fier is digging in her garden when she unearths the metal canister that Jonathan had buried the pendant in years earlier. She takes a liking to it and puts it on, and is immediately consumed by a brief but intense vision of fire. She does not take this as a warning to maybe stop wearing it, because that’s not how horror characters operate. Instead, she shows it off to her family. This includes her sister Kate, brother Simon, and their parents.
That very same night, a drifter knocks on their door. They take him in for supper and allow him to wash up. Was this common practice in those times? I’m genuinely curious. Elizabeth catches a glimpse of him shirtless and develops a hearty crush on him. What the newest happy-go-lucky Fier family doesn’t know is the Franklin is a Goode! He is very aware of the curse, and he plans on killing all of them to exact revenge on behalf of his family. He does this by courting both of the Fier sisters and getting them both to love with him. If there is a moral to any of these stories, it’s that falling in love as a teenager will probably get one of you murdered.
Things really go to shit when Kate informs the family that Franklin proposed to her! Elizabeth is heartbroken and runs from the house to try and find Franklin; Kate follows her. The rest of the family hears a deafening scream from the woods. Kate is found, stabbed in the throat with Elizabeth’s knitting needles. Everyone assumes Elizabeth did it, but she sweats it wasn’t her. Simon has suspicions about Franklin and returns to the site of the murder a few days later. There he is confronted by the town hermit, Old Aggie. She tells Simon about the curse on his family. She also tells him that their name spells fire when the letters are rearranged (which was not quite as revelatory as it was intended) and that means they will end in flames (a foreshadow for The Burning). She gives Simon a poison dagger to protect himself from Franklin, but unfortunately never explains how she knows everything she does.
Simon goes back to find that Franklin has already murdered his parents with an ax. He manages to kill Franklin with the poison dagger before getting ax-murdered himself. We never really find out what happened with Elizabeth, but she wasn’t going well the last we heard from her. And that’s how the second book ends. While The Betrayal left me satisfied, The Secret left me wanting more. I wanted to know more about Old Aggie. Was she an estranged descendent of the Fier’s or the Goodes? What stake did she have in this? I wish there was something tying her to the earlier stories; that would have been really interesting.
I also wanted to know more about Franklin. He talked about his family dying of a strange sickness, but it’s unclear if he was just lying to the Fier’s or if it actually happened. He was lying to and manipulating them the whole time, so if that part was true I wish it had been clearly spelled out. How had the story of the curse been passed down to him? What made him want so badly to seek revenge? Knowing these things would have better explained his motives and given him more than one dimension. It felt like the two most compelling characters in the story were sold short.
Overall, I found The Secret frustrating. It was by far the weakest book in the trilogy (my review for The Burning will post next week). It didn’t do enough to stand out on its own. It suffered from classic “middle book” problems. It had some great creepy moments, but it felt too repetitive. It did a good job, however, of introducing Simon Fear as a tragic protagonist and setting the stage nicely for the third and final installment.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each. I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are Concept (the overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes). Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, The Secret is ranked 4th of 79 in the overall Fear Street series and The Fear Street Saga is ranked 2nd of 6 among the Fear Street Trilogies, placing the book itself in the middle-high tier overall. The trilogy, as a whole, lands in the bottom tier when compared to other trilogies. It should be noted that the series ranking for the Fear Street books is a bit skewed in favor of the later books in the series, most likely due to the drop in popularity in the late 90’s. The books in the latter half of the series have a significantly lower number of ratings, which (I’m hypothesizing) is due to super-fans being unchecked by more critical voices.
Nothing has changed conceptually since the first book, we just follow the curse to two new generations.
I didn’t need the Fier/fire bit spelled out so blatantly. I also had a hard time understanding the Reverend and Delilah’s motives. It began to feel repetitive.
I started to get REALLY sick of the love at first sight nonsense. I wanted so much more for the female characters. I could have done with more Old Aggie and a fuller backstory on Franklin.
Scare Factor: 2/2
A post-plague ghost town, child buried alive, mom drowning in the well, family taking in a drifter who murders them with an ax… Lots of scary moments. Life back then in general just seems scarier.
Some of the stories in this one worked, and some of them just felt like frustrating repetitions. I’m docking a point for its rigid adherence to the formula.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street Saga #3: The Burning
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
R.L. Stine’s The Babysitter