I don’t think I ever actually read the Fear Street Saga books. This was back in the day, when you read the library books that were in front of you and didn’t know you could ask for more, so I just missed them. The Betrayal came out in 1993, which isn’t even that late, though it seems Stine was releasing these monthly, so who knows how many volumes had come out between this and The New Girl. Fear Street was cursed, that’s for sure, and he set out to tell the world exactly why.
The 1993 cover (pulled from GoodReads) is a little hard to understand. Which girl is that supposed to be? I doubt it’s Susannah, so it’s probably Nora, but nothing suggests Nora would have this coy look about her. I suppose that’s Nora running away from the fire as well, though why she’s cloaked isn’t really covered in the book. The new cover (pulled from its Amazon page) is a little better. It’s not as soap opera-y, which this book definitely is, but it’s got a little more mystery to it, and it sort of goes with the idea of generations of Fiers. I like the blood on it too.
I guess the only real tagline is
The Fear Street Saga… where the terror began.
Which is true. I’m not mad about it. At this point there’s been a bunch of volumes and hints as to the true nature of the Fears, so we would be clamoring to know.
This book starts in the Village of Shadyside in the year of 1900. We meet Nora Goode, who is telling the story, who is trapped in a fire. Her beloved Daniel Fear is trapped in the fire, and all she has left of him is a strange amulet “with its sparkling blue jewels held in place by a silver three-towed claw”. People shout about how evil the Fears are, the fire doesn’t stop, and Nora runs into to find Daniel and sees visions of people being burned alive, young men being tortured, and sees the ghost of a woman tied to stake and being consumed by a fire.
We switch over to Wickham Village in 1692. This was all written pre-Internet, so I can’t assume that Stine read a Wikipdia page on colonial life and called it a day. I can assume that he found a book on pilgrims and considered that research enough. I found this section particularly jarring as I’d just picked up Conversion as well, which felt very well researched. I also write a historical fiction horror serial, and if Stine is cutting corners I cannot say I blame him. Research is hard.
Susannah Goode lives in the village of Wickham during the good old days of “blaming everything on witches”. The whole village is consumed with it, thanks to the magistrate Benjamin Fier and his brother Matthew, who have gone around accusing everyone. This also starts the trend of saying “Evil One” when they mean “The Devil”. I didn’t do a ton of follow up reading on this (see: skimming Wikipedia articles), but I can’t find an actual precedent for doing that sort of thing, so I assume the editor was opposed to putting the Devil in books for kids, which is strange considering just about everything else goes on in this book.
See, Susannah wants to be a good Puritan lass, but then there’s this boy. Edward Fier is handsome, dresses well, and he has a thing for Susannah. They meet in the woods to make out and declare their love for each other. It’s not very wholesome, especially with Edward’s insistence in following God’s law, but what’s theology without a little hypocrisy. The Fier’s are all about hypocrisy. It’s very clear they’re rigging the game, giving themselves the best house, the best crops, the handsomest wives, and accusing just about everyone who gets on their bad side of witchcraft. Susannah gets caught cavorting with Edward, and she learns that Edward’s been engaged to another young lady from some other village. Susannah is devastated, but not as upset as Edward, who opposes the marriage. He tells his dad as much, and Benjamin is unhappy to hear this. Which is why, the very next day, Susannah and her mother are dragged out of their house and imprisoned for witchcraft.
Susannah and her mother are held on trial, and it’s a poor one. They’re condemned by the wind (no, literally), and Benjamin trumps up some false evidence to send them to the stake. The Fiers aren’t content with just hanging witches either. They believe in a good old fashioned burning, like back home. Edward believes his father and condemns Susannah pretty much immediately, which sucks but I didn’t have much hope for their future anyway. Susannah’s father, William Goode, he brings the Fiers into his home and offers to bribe his wife and child’s freedom. William also gets a good look at the amulet, which reads “Dominatio per malum“, which he does not immediately understand. And, again, I don’t know anything about Puritans, but did they refuse to learn Latin? Because I feel like someone would’ve picked up on that. Even if you, dear reader, did not know a single Latin phrase, the “domination” part of that phrase would certainly give you pause, and I feel like we all know what “malum” is. But the brothers convince William to give them basically everything in his home for the promise that his wife and child would be released.
Only, the next day dawns, and poor William has to watch his wife and daughter trot out to the stake and be burned alive. He demands to know what happened, and he’s told by everyone that Benjamin and Matthew stole absolutely everything from the village and fled. Which, I get that the magistrate handed down a ruling and some people might’ve felt that needed to be carried out, but I’d think the moment the Fiers showed their true colors, the town might have a good hard look at the goings on and decide “what if we don’t burn this mother and young maiden”. William is devastated by this all, and he goes into his house, revealing a secret door, a black candle, and scarlet hood. Guess who was a witch all along!
We’re sent reeling forward to the 1900s, where Nora Goode continues writing about her ancestor. She’s compelled to tell the story of what happened, and she tracks the Fiers to eighteen years later, where Benjamin and Matthew have a farm. Edward married a woman named Rebecca, and they have a son named Ezra, and thanks to Matthew’s wife a cousin named Mary.
It is Western Pennsylvania in 1710, and we meet the Fiers again. William Goode has tracked them down, and he plans to curse them all, and shit pops off quickly. Almost immediately Edward falls off the roof, hurting his arm so that he can’t move it, and Benjamin loses feeling in his leg. They hire on Jeremy Thorne to help with farm work, and Mary quickly becomes enamored with him. She brings him water and falls in love with him in about three days, though to be fair this was Pilgrim times and you had about that long to find a suitable partner before the cholera, tuberculosis, or famine got you. Jeremy is annoyed that Mary won’t discuss it with her family, even though they’ve now shared long kisses. She goes to Edward, hoping to talk with him, but they’re distracted by a phantom fire in the trees, in which they are treated to a vision of Susannah Goode burning alive. Edward has a visceral reaction to this but doesn’t want to talk about it.
Jeremy is delightfully unhelpful about this, telling Mary that “the light plays tricks in the tress” as though some mirage could show them a girl being burned alive at the stake. They kiss some more, and Jeremy tells her his father is very ill and can’t be concerned with their romance. Mary goes to visit Rebecca, who she finds hanged from the rafters of her home in a truly gruesome moment. She sees a dark figure in a field and runs out to it, only to see Benjamin strung up like a scarecrow. A funeral is held, in which Jeremy and Mary’s relationship is revealed. Jeremy also tells her his father is the one behind the murders, his father being William Goode, and Jeremy wishes to squash the rivalry between the families. Edward overhears everything and goes to tell his uncle. Matthew reveals Susannah did die for nothing at all, and he wants to kill William Goode. Edward and Mary talk him down, insisting that they make peace with the family, and cement it with the marriage of Mary and Jeremy.
Jeremy is invited to the Fier home in order to smooth things over, but about two seconds after he arrives, this horrifying passage happens:
As Jeremy crossed the room to greet him, Matthew Fier raised the silver disk over his head and pointed it at Jeremy.
Jeremy hesitated. His smile faded.
Matthew called out the words on the back of the disk: “Dominatio per malum!”
Jeremy’s head exploded with a low pop!
At first no one was certain where the sound had come from.
Mary was the first to realize that something horrible had happened.
Jeremy’s skull cracked open, and the skin on his face blistered and peeled away. Pink brains bubbled up from his open skull. His face appeared to melt away, an another face pushed up from his shattered skull.
Because Jeremy isn’t Jeremy at all! He was William all along, trying to get close to the Fiers! The Latin phrase is finally revealed to be “Power through Evil” which is honestly a terrible family motto no matter how it’s sliced. If you’re not indoctrinating your children, why even have that motto. William and Matthew have a wizard battle, and Edward grabs Mary and Ezra, escaping their home.
We are shutted forward again to the Western Pennyslvania Wilderness in 1725. Ezra is a grown man now, whose father died, and Mary, who never recovered from seeing Jeremy’s fucking head explode, drowns herself. He returns to the family home with only a vague recollection of what happened that night and the name of William Goode. He finds Matthew boarded himself and Constance up until the day they died, and Ezra swears revenge.
Back in 1900, Nora continues her writing, and she promises that it’s TO BE CONTINUED…
“I will never apologize to a murderer,” he muttered.
“You and Benjamin are also murderers!” Mary cried.
I don’t know nearly enough about these time periods to talk smack about Stine’s research methods. And I definitely don’t know enough about 17th century Satanists and/or black magic users to talk smack about the Fiers. I did find evidence that Puritans did attend grammar school, which taught Latin, though it’s fair that Susannah would not have this education. I’m just saying that Dominatio per malum would’ve been easily figured out by anyone. It’s also baffling to me that the Fiers didn’t indoctrinate their children in their black magic, but I guess this cycle of Fiers doing violence on Goodes doing violence on Fiers wouldn’t happen otherwise.
I was expecting a little more out of this, since people fondly remember the Fear Street Saga. Maybe because I didn’t have nostalgia for this, I was slightly less forgiving, so I’m going to give it two exploding heads out of five.