The Letter for the King, by Tonke Dragt. This book is talked about more and more in a way that suggests it’s hard to believe it has been so overlooked for so long – and yet it has won all sorts of awards and sold millions! It is a fantasy/sci-fi classic, with a number of themes (courage, loyalty, companionship and initiative to name the main ones) and it has been translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson (who also illustrated it brilliantly, in my opinion).
Antonia ‘Tonke’ Dragt was a brilliant writer... for her time. And here comes the ‘warning’ (for the want of a better word). She was born in 1930 and as a result this book was written for a different generation of children. This is an ‘old-style’ book in terms of the way it was written and it takes it’s time. It is unhurried in its descriptions. It’s challenging in a good way but, in places, could be considered over-long for today’s young audience. It falls between a younger readership in its storyline and an older readership in its written style. In fact, it’s ideal for young-minded adults! My message is: they have to persevere to read it. It also has Tolkien-style moments, that are very vivid and well written, but over-all it’s not quite up there with the Hobbit.
Having said all that, I loved the story (perhaps because I’m old-style too). In brief, this is a story about a boy entrusted with a secret. When sixteen-year-old Tiuri is given a letter by a mysterious servant, he finds himself on a dangerous mission. The message is for the Black Knight with the White Shield, but unfortunately events over take him. The Knight is murdered by the Red Riders and Tiuri is left to carry the message over the Great Mountains to the King. His quest is to deliver a secret letter, save the kingdom and do it all in secret. He must never reveal what is written in the letter...
This is a stand along story in a series of books by the same author and Netflix have picked it up too. It is well-worth reading (not least because it is on most school reading lists) and it is suitable for competent readers of 11+. However, it isn’t quite a modern ‘teen’ book, so don’t be surprised if they prefer to watch it rather than read it! For that reason, we give this a Yellowbird rating of 4.5 out of 5.