BOOK CLUB: Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye

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Book Club LogoWelcome to BOOK CLUB, a joint venture between me and Jen from Devourer of Books.  Today we are discussing Seven For A Secret by Lyndsay Faye, the second book in her series about New York “copper stars” Timothy and Valentine Wilde.

 From The Publisher: Six months after the formation of the NYPD, its most reluctant and talented officer, Timothy Seven for A Secret by Lyndsay FayWilde, thinks himself well versed in his city’s dark practices—until he learns of the gruesome underworld of lies and corruption ruled by the “blackbirders,” who snatch free Northerners of color from their homes, masquerade them as slaves, and sell them South to toil as plantation property.

The abolitionist Timothy is horrified by these traders in human flesh. But in 1846, slave catching isn’t just legal—it’s law enforcement.

When the beautiful and terrified Lucy Adams staggers into Timothy’s office to report a robbery and is asked what was stolen, her reply is, “My family.” Their search for her mixed-race sister and son will plunge Timothy and his feral brother, Valentine, into a world where police are complicit and politics savage, and corpses appear in the most shocking of places. Timothy finds himself caught between power and principles, desperate to protect his only brother and to unravel the puzzle before all he cares for is lost.

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page, and check back throughout the day as more questions are added to the post.

  • What were your general impressions of the book, and how did your thoughts and opinions evolve as the story unfolded?
  • Show of hands, how many of you read The Gods of Gotham? Was the continuation of this story satisfying for you? How did the books compare?
  • If this is your first time reading about the Wilde brothers, what did you think of them? Will you go back to read The Gods of Gotham? Is this a series that interests you?
  • Timothy and Val are involved in Copper Stars and politics to varying degrees. How do their personal ideals and politics affect their choices? Their relationship? Do you think either of them walks an easier path than the other?
  • Early on Jean-Baptiste (the chimney sweep) signals the importance of identity in Seven for a Secret. What are your thoughts on the way it presents itself to different characters throughout the novel? Did anyone’s identity hold surprises for you?
  • Each of Faye’s novels in the Wilde series has approached important issues permeating 19th century  New York City. How familiar were you with “blackbirding” and Vigilance committees before this novel? Why is some history more widely known?

12 copies of Seven for a Secret were provided by Amy Einhorn/Putnam Books in order to facilitate this discussion. Thank you so much!

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

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  1. I did read The Gods of Gotham and thought it was excellent. Loved the characters and the story. Her second outing was good but not as gripping as my introduction to the Wilde brothers. I felt it needed a bit of editing/tightening in the last third of the book. That said, the story line was interesting. I had heard of “blackbirding” but appreciated learning more about it.

    I will read the next in the series mainly because I’m hoping Faye brings Mercy back!

    1. Interestingly, I felt the same way at the end of Gods of Gotham and at the beginning of this one: I really wanted Faye to bring Mercy back or at least make her a major part of the story. But now I’m not so sure I want that anymore. I hate seeing Timothy pine for and suffer over someone he is so far away from, even though I like Mercy quite a bit. I’m torn. I would almost rather that part of the story get wrapped up in some way so Timothy can move on.

      1. I was pleasantly surprised when Tim first got that mysterious letter from Mercy. I felt like there was closure at the end of the last book, but now I am curious about what would happen if she returned to New York, or even to hear he had visited London. So much of him seems to revolve around his love for her and their former friendship that I could feel how he was adjusting to her absence. But I would also be just as happy for him to move on from that relationship. It never seemed healthy towards the end of Gods.

  2. I also read The Gods of Gotham and thought Seven for a Secret was a worthy continuation. I’m a bit of a history nerd and I love well written, intricate mysteries so this series is pretty much right up my alley. I did feel the novel dragged at certain points but overall, plenty of twists and turns and entertaining storytelling to hold my interest.

    I think it’s interesting how much of a contrast Val and Tim are. Val is carefree and sure of his place in the city. He is heavily involved in politics, fire fighting, and has no trouble attracting romantic partners. He is self-confident and assured. Tim is more serious and less enthusiastic about politics. His perception of his facial burns (and how he thinks others perceive the burns) are a detriment to his own self confidence. It took another character pointing out to Tim that he’s not “ruined” and I thought it was interesting how Tim took that comment in and did some things that maybe he wouldn’t have ordinarily done.

    1. Interesting observation, Mary. I like the way Faye is handling that part of the story. At times I do want him to feel more confident, and at a quicker pace, but it really hasn’t been that long! Only a year. And I would think that facial disfiguration would be very difficult to feel good about, no matter how insignificant the scarring. I look forward to more developments with this with him.

  3. If pressed, I would say that I knew blackbirding was an issue (although I didn’t have that name for it). However, if you had asked me to list the issues of antebellum New York City, I’m not sure that I would have thought to list it. I love that Faye features it here, and I love that Tim is ready to throw in his lot on the side of right, despite the political repercussions. Perhaps that makes him a bit modern (at least his beliefs as to what is right), but the rest of the novel is set so beautifully and specifically in its own time period, that I can believe that he is just an extraordinarily principled man and not think about him as a 20th century person just dropped into the story.

    1. I agree. I love how Timothy’s character was further developed in this book. It never felt to me like he was a modern man dropped into an earlier story (there were many people with Timothy’s principles at that time, although they may not have stuck their necks out for them like Timothy did). Not that I didn’t respect him in Gods of Gotham for what he did, but Seven for a Secret made me respect him even more. He is such a wonderful character.

  4. ■What were your general impressions of the book, and how did your thoughts and opinions evolve as the story unfolded?

    I thought this book was very good and interesting. My thoughts about that didnt change it was a good book. I also loved the writing style.

    ■Show of hands, how many of you read The Gods of Gotham? Was the continuation of this story satisfying for you? How did the books compare?

    I did not read The Gods of Gotham (or ever had ever heard of it before this book) so sadly I can not compare the two.

    ■If this is your first time reading about the Wilde brothers, what did you think of them? Will you go back to read The Gods of Gotham? Is this a series that interests you?

    I thought the Wilde Brothers wer interesting. I love the authors characterization she makes characters that readers are interested in what happens to them and charaters that are also memorable. I will certainly rember the Wildle Brothers and I certainly want to go back and read The Gods of Gotham. This is a series that really interests me because of my love of history!

    ■Each of Faye’s novels in the Wilde series has approached important issues permeating 19th century New York City. How familiar were you with “blackbirding” and Vigilance committees before this novel? Why is some history more widely known?

    Even though I am an avid history lover I had not heard of these terms. So I loved leaning about them! Some history is more well known there others because some history is determined to be more important. Also we like to sugarcoat over alot of things in history as well.

  5. I have to confess that I’m not quite finished – and part of me doesn’t want it to end. Generally, I am loving this book. I did read Gods of Gotham, and I have to say I actually like this one more. Perhaps because I found the child prostitution SO upsetting in the first one. Not that the “blackbirding” wasn’t upsetting, but in a different way. Reading this book I find myself fighting two modes: wanting to savor the luscious phrasing and immerse myself in the descriptions of Manhattan in the 19th century. (Feral pigs running around loose!?) but also wanting to speed ahead to solve the mystery.
    I did have a little panic in the first section as it jumped into the world so quickly and I wasn’t sure if I’d remember either the characters or what happened, but I thought Faye did a good job of making things clear whether you knew or remembered what had gone before.

    Timothy and Val are such a pair, and I’m glad that their relationship gets a lot of time in this. They both torture themselves, but in such different ways. Though the role of the rising Copper Stars is interesting, I found the specifics (and difficulties) of daily life the most enthralling. Just thinking about NYC as a place where nothing got anywhere without animal power is so mind-blowing. Imagining the neighborhoods I’ve spent time in so many years ago is fascinating to me. Especially where things haven’t changed so much physically – the same street layouts, for instance.

    I thought the “blackbirding” issue was a wonderful one to explore. Having learned a bit more about the history of abolitionism in a book I read about Louisa May Alcott and family last year, I have to say that I didn’t find Timothy’s POV unbelievable. There were heroic souls who stood up to the general beliefs about African Americans, and they fought some major battles, personally and politically. I think Timothy’s history with Julius helped make his take a natural one, as well as his inability to see suffering, especially unjust suffering. I thought the moments where he had to make choices where there was no right answer were quite moving.

    I hope this series continues, and I will be passing this one on to my dad, who really enjoyed Gods of Gotham, as soon as I’m finished!

    1. I was a bit panicked in the beginning, too, for the same reason. Heh. I was so afraid I wasn’t going to properly remember certain characters and situations from Gods of Gotham. You’re right–Faye did a terrific job reminding us about everything without having to go over whole parts of the first story again.

  6. I thought this was a great continuation of Gods of Gotham — the first introduced Timothy, and because we already knew him in the second book, Faye was able to dive right into the story. I also thought she (and her editor, presumably) did an excellent job of balancing the need to tell some of Timothy’s background for those new to the Wilde’s story with the need not to be too redundant for those who had read the first novel–it never felt overdone to me.

    Regarding “blackbirding”, like Jen said, I suppose I knew somewhere in my head that this was an issue, but if you had asked me to list the issues facing New York in the 1840s, it would not have made my list. Faye introduced some of the racial tensions of the city in Gods of Gotham and it was interesting to see her expand on that aspect of the city in this volume.

    1. I thought it was interesting that I never thought of there being an agency that specifically helped prevent people from being abducted back into slavery. It’s almost too horrible to consider, and I wonder if that’s why more people don’t have more explicit information about it. The Underground Railroad is fraught with its own dangers and perils, but maybe it is easier to “spin” more positive stories about. It’s always interesting to me which history is emphasized and which requires more digging.

  7. I read The Gods of Gotham with BOOK CLUB last year and really enjoyed it. I’m not sure if I enjoyed Seven for a Secret any more or less. I liked that the subject matter in this one felt a bit more realistic (not to say that the child murders in Gods of Gotham couldn’t have happened, but the subject of slavery in this one felt more…down to earth? Natural?) I still really like the Wilde brothers (Timothy more than Val), but I’m getting a little tired of Silkie Marsh and the constant battle going on between her and the Wilde brothers. I feel like that needs to come to a head and be over soon.

    I think that Timothy walks the easier path because he doesn’t have political loyalties like Val does. Val has to traverse both law enforcement and the Democratic party, not only because he’s a captain, but also because he’s a rather important member of the party. Timothy, on the other hand, just has to make sure that he doesn’t piss his boss off TOO much and lose his job. Otherwise, the only things Timothy is loyal to are truth, justice, and his personal morals. Where Val has to be more temperate, Timothy can stand true to his beliefs.

    I did already know about the “capture” and sale of free Black people in northern states to southern states. Like Jen, I’m not sure I knew the name for it, but I knew about the practice. I had an inkling that the Wright sisters weren’t who they were claiming to be, but I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant for the story. I was afraid that they weren’t really free, but the rest of their story eluded me until the end. I wasn’t sure where Rutherford and the rest of them fit into it. I *think* I had read elsewhere of the Vigilance Committees that were started in northern cities, but not very much. I really enjoyed Seven for a Secret for the mention of the committees and the Underground Railroad. Again, I just felt like this story was a tiny bit more natural-feeling than Gods of Gotham.

    1. I have to agree with Heather per Silkie Marsh. Faye either needs to bring that story to a conclusion or throw in a new twist. I’d be interested to hear what other readers feel about her character and whether or not they would prefer to see her in the third book. Ditto with Timothy’s landlady.

      1. In the last book I felt like there was potential for Timothy and the landlady, especially since Mercy turned out to be not as Tim expected. In this story she felt more like background to me. I don’t mind her. She knows Bird and she has an idea of what he has been through, so they are slowly building a relationship where they trust and lean on each other, but I don’t feel a spark there.

        Silkie, I am definitely over, and I was dismayed to see her as involved as she was. I get that she is evil, and has her hands in all the politics and all of the people, but I don’t find her very interesting. Her lack of feeling indicates that she is a sociopath, but it also makes her a little one note. If they must have a long term nemesis, I would much prefer someone else!

        1. I’m going to have to dissent here with the role of Silkie. I agree that the conflict between her and the Wilde brothers is getting old (maybe Faye will bring it to conclusion in book 3?), but I think she is really interesting character purely for the fact that she is a woman who is in control of her own destiny (as far as we know). She runs a business and has a hand in politics. She’s evil and conniving, yes but she also does what she wants. The Women’s Suffrage movement is just getting started during the time period this novel is set in so it’s interesting to me to see a woman so in control.

          She’s an interesting antagonist because she has to use skill and cunning to get to the Wilde brothers whereas other characters, like Sean Mulqueen for example, are forced to use physical means – Tim ended up fighting Sean.

          What do you guys think?

          1. I don’t disagree with anything that you say about her role/what she has achieved, per se, I just don’t find her to be emotionally complex. I think if she were more ambiguous, I would have more use for her, and more interest in her.

            1. This is how I feel about it, too. I respect her power as a woman at a time when women didn’t have much agency, but as a character, I’m over her.

              1. Again I’m going to agree with Heather. (And we’re not related, I swear!) In GODS I thought her character was dynamic, a nice melding of a strong female with an evil influence. In SEVEN I felt she was dangerously close to becoming a caricature of herself.

                I adore Bird and hope to see more of her in the next outing.

                1. I agree with much of what’s been said, here. Silkie was more complex in the last book. I think I am more curious about the landlady, however. I find myself wondering what her history is.
                  I love Bird, too! I also loved the Jean-Baptiste character, though we didn’t get a lot of him. the chimney-sweep specifics were horrifying, of course. That bit about what the boss did to their elbows to make them slide better! My god.

                2. I’m really interested in reading the first book now as I am curious about how Silkie was presented in that book. I find her to be a strong women, yet could be teetering on the verge of psychopathic.

        1. I am a little afraid for her. She was more of a background piece in this book, and I would like to know more about her too. But I also think her situation with Tim is much too cozy. It makes me worry.

  8. I thought that this book was okay. I did not read Gods of Gotham, but sure plan on it after reading the discussion. I liked Tim as a character and was invested in him. I also think that he had it easier than his brother because he tried to stay out of the “politics” of police work. I think that for me the story of “blackbirding” was the most interesting and engaging for me. I can honestly say that it is a part of history that I was not very familiar with. I think the author did a great job painting a picture for me about what NY looked like in the 1840s. I will continue reading this series.

  9. I didn’t read the Gods of Gotham either but I plan on going back. When I first started the book I felt like I was missing some back story. I really hate not reading a series in order. What I loved about the book was the language. When historical novel authors write as if they are in the 21st century it drives me nuts. I loved that the front had vocabulary for the period and the way people spoke really helped me enter into the period.

    I found Timothy very interesting. He’s so quiet and self-conscioud and yet a really intelligent man. I love that he is so well read.

    I was familiar with the activity of blackbirding but like others I was new to that term. It’s not a typicaly subject for historical noveels, to my knowledge and so enjoyed learning more about it.