Nora Roberts' name is virtually synonymous with the romance novel. She is also one of the most prolific mass market writers today; between the Nora Roberts standalone novels, trilogies, novellas, and the futuristic In Death series - written under the pseudonym J.D. Robb - she churns out three or four new books a year. Unlike James Patterson, she does it alone. Her writing remains sharp, funny, and spicy, which is why she has such a rabid fan base. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, her plotlines seem to be wearing thin.
The Pagan Stone is the final installment in the Sign of Seven trilogy. Over 300 years ago, a "guardian" named Giles Dent battled a demon in the form of a man named Lazarus Twisse at a place that has come to be called the Pagan Stone by the locals of Hawkins Hollow, Maryland. At midnight on July 7, 1987, three best friends celebrated their tenth birthday by camping out at the Pagan Stone and performing a childish ritual to become "blood brothers." In doing so, Cal Hawkins, Fox O'Dell, and Gage Turner unleashed Twisse, who comes back for one week every seven years to infect and wreak havoc and terror on the town. The townspeople kill, rape, steal, loot, off themselves and create general mayhem. After the "Seven," as the men have come to call it, a sort of amnesia sets in and no one remembers quite what has happened except for this little band who have charged themselves with protecting the town. I was hooked by the premise of the story from the first book, Blood Brothers, and it kept my attention through act two, The Hollow.
Since this novel is the third and final piece of the story, most of the plot is established. Three women have come to join the men in their little quest, and in predictable fashion, Cal has already paired off with the lovely Quinn Black and Fox is hooked up with sassy Layla Darnell. You already know that Gage is going to end up with the exotic Cybil Kinski, because there's a formula to these things. Personally, I don't read the books for the romance and sex, because predictability bores me. I read them for the characters, and this is Gage's book. He's a poker-playing, ladies'-man badass who grew up the son of the town drunk and lit out as soon as he could, but he comes back every Seven out of love and loyalty for Cal and Fox. The three men are descendents of Dent; their ancestors are Dent's triplet sons by Ann Hawkins, daughter of the town's founder. Gage's mother died when he was a kid and with a father who beat him just for the hell of it, Cal and Fox are the closest thing Gage has to family. That's about all of the character development that we get from Gage. According to legends and lore, dreams and visions, our merry sextet has to figure out how to end Twisse for good this time or he will come back to full power (or something like that). Obviously they do just that, because bored women don't want unhappy endings where the heroes die and the bad guy wins. I actually wanted something like that to happen; I would have been cool with Gage having to give his life for the sake of the greater good, if only to break up the monotony.
To be honest, I was looking forward to getting answers and resolution from this book, but all it really did was confuse me. It's almost like Roberts was humming along, knocked out the first two books, and then ran out of steam on this one so she just kind of said, "Okay, Gage can see the future, so he believes that he has to die for them to win, and he's gonna bang Cybil, and fall in love with her even though he doesn't want to, and make up with his father, and then there will be some fire and somebody will almost die and they'll all live happily ever after. And eat cake."
I think that my biggest issue with the trilogy in particular and Roberts' books as a whole is the fact that they always have to have that fairytale marriage/babies/ride off into the sunset ending. Why can't I have a romance novel where the characters don't fall madly in love after a few weeks and plan weddings a mere four months after they meet? Give me a couple in love who are content to just shack up for a while and see where life takes them. (Interestingly, Fox's parents are a couple of hippies who never bothered to tie the knot.) Given the fact that Gage and Cybil are both free spirited roamers, is it really necessary that they decide to head for Vegas and a Little White Chapel? Can't they just say, "Hey, we're in love, we're going to have a baby, and we're just going to travel around like a little nomad family because that's the way we're wired." I guess I'm just looking for a happy ending that doesn't necessarily end with a white dress, birdseed, and a baby coach.