Raised as a lady amidst the Georgian splendor of Bath, Red’s fortune-telling delights in high society. But she cannot ignore the questions that gnaw at her soul: who was her mother? How did she die? And who are the mysterious enemies her father was always terrified would find him?
The pursuit of these mysteries takes her from Cornwall and Bath to London and Devon, from the rough ribaldry of the Bartholomew Fair to the grand houses of two of the most powerful families in England. And while Red’s quest brings her the possibility of great reward, it also leads to grave danger.
Laura Shepherd-Robinson, “the queen of modern Georgian literature” (Susan Stokes-Chapman, author of Pandora), has written a dazzling and Dickensian story of mystery and intrigue, with audacious twists and turns."
I absolutely adored this book. The Square of Sevens reminded me why I love huge historical fiction novels, especially ones filled with some compelling mystery à la Sarah Waters. This book had everything: a captivating historical setting, a strong cast of characters to love and hate and everything in between, endless secrets and mysteries to discover, and so much more.
In The Square of Sevens, we follow Red over a number of years from childhood into young adulthood. We start out following Red as a young girl as she spends much of her childhood traveling around with her father, a pellar who makes a living telling fortunes and who is constantly on the move to avoid some mysterious enemies that Red doesn't know much about. He most often tells his fortunes via an ancient method known as the titular Square of Sevens (which he has also taught Red how to perform), a method that has fallen out of popularity and is considered rare to know how to perform it. After her father dies, Red ends up in the care of a kind man and becomes part of his family in Bath. This entire introduction is only the start of Red's story, and from her time in Bath and onward more and more events occur that shake Red's world and lead her on many different types of journeys.
Throughout the book, Red ends up traveling to different places and meets a variety of characters that impact her life in a variety of different ways. As much as I'd love to touch on some more of what happens in this book, I don't want to give away a single thing and since there are so many fine details in this book that end up playing into other areas of the plot, I'll not go into much more detail. All I'll say is that Red's rare knowledge of the Square of Sevens draws some attention and she also finds herself in possession of something that a powerful and wealthy family wants a part of... and Red's connection to that family has a lot more to it than ever expected.
Red is a fantastic protagonist and someone who really comes into herself throughout the story and also stays true to herself. Although she did have some fairly predictable traits and actions, I found a lot of her choices to be relatively unpredictable and brought something new to story, and I enjoyed that aspect a lot. I think something that I particularly appreciated about Red as our protagonist is that she is a very likable person who seems to have good morals in place and appreciates kindness to all, but as the story progresses and it is called upon her character to be a bit more deceitful and her goals turn into a bit of revenge, which I think was honestly a nice change. She didn't want to stop at just being 'okay' in her life; she wanted to challenge herself, help others, and actually force some people to realize that there are some things they cannot get away with.
I loved all the different character we met in this story, as well. All of them were very well developed to the point where a majority of them didn't seem particularly 'good' or 'bad' characters, but were instead a nice mix of both (though there were of course some characters that had a distinct 'villain' feel to them). I really appreciated how they were all complex and each character seemed to have so many different facets to them, from their motivations to their goals and reasonings for all of their choices. Everyone's doing something for multiple reasons and there were a myriad of grey areas that really fit the story.
The historical setting of The Square of Sevens was also incredibly well-executed and you can easily tell that the author does a lot of research for her work, which also encourages me to check out some of her other books now. I think she deftly captured every setting we experience, from traveling with her father and visiting inns to her home in Bath and on to living on her own in London and telling fortunes, we really get to see it all and experience it as viscerally and vividly as Red does.
Lastly, I wanted to note that this is definitely a slower paced novel. It's a large read at 500+ pages and while I enjoyed all of them, it is one that I think could lose about 50 pages or so and still be an incredibly story. That being said, I found the first half of this book to be a page turner that I could not put down, so a slow pace doesn't necessarily mean a slow read. By the last quarter or so of the book, however, that page turner feeling fell of a bit and there were some sections that felt drawn out and moved much more slowly than the rest of the book. That would be the only thing I have close to a negative thing to say about The Square of Sevens, as I genuinely loved this book and had the hardest time pulling myself away from it.
Overall, I've given The Square of Sevens five stars! If you enjoy a big, immersive historical fiction with plenty of mystery and intrigue and a fascinating array of characters, then you're sure to love The Square of Sevens as well.