Title: The Song of Seven
Author: Tonke Dragt
Published: 2016 (originally 1966)
Language: English (translated from the Dutch)
Translator: Laura Watkinson
I’ve already talked about this book in my November Wrap Up, but I think a proper review is still in order. I’ve loved both The Letter for the King and The Secrets of the Wild Wood so much, that any other book by Dragt deserves the attention. The book is translated by Laura Watkinson. I hadn’t read this particular book by Dragt before it was published by Pushkin Press in an English translation. It is called De Zevensprong in Dutch (literally: ‘The Seven Ways’) and it was adapted for television in 1982.
The Song of Seven is about Mr Frans van der Steg, who is a teacher at a local primary school. At the end of every school day, Frans entertains his pupils with tales of Frans the Red, his brave and adventurous alter ego. He claims that these stories, that involve horrifying beasts and evil foes, did really happen. But one day, when he finally can’t think of any story to tell, he tells the children that he is expecting a letter that night – a letter that will lead to another adventure. To his own surprise he really does receive a letter.
He is introduced to the Conspiracy of Seven: seven people that want to protect the young heir Geert-Jan from his greedy uncle. It was once prophesied that the heir of Count Grisenstein would find the treasure that is hidden in the House of Stairs – the ancestral abode of the noble family. Frans has to travel the Seven Ways to help Geert-Jan and unravel the mystery together.
‘We have secrets to unravel and mysteries to solve’, he said. ‘And now that we’ve finished our coffee, it’s time to begin.’
First things first: this is certainly not as good as Dragt’s other work. Although the story is okay, the characters interesting and some magical elements really fascinating, it isn’t very well worked out. It came nowhere near the other books, that both have excellent world building. It’s a pity because Dragt has mastered the art of fantasy and imagination: The House of Stairs, for example, could just as easily have sprung from the mind of J. K. Rowling.
The Song of Seven also reads like it was intended for a younger audience than the stories about Tiuri. The bad guy really isn’t that bad (more likely ‘troubled’), the quest isn’t that interesting or fascinating and the idea of writing the story around the old Dutch children’s song ‘The Seven Ways’ feels even more childish. In my opinion, the best children’s stories are those that are also enjoyed by adults, but this was just all right.
I gave this a 3 out of 5 stars because it didn’t bore me and I love Dragt, but there were to many things that annoyed me that kept me from actually loving it.