REVIEW of The Letter for the King, by Tonke Dragt

Letter for the KingAll of his life Tiuri has wanted to be a knight, but on the night before his accolade, a knock on the door turns his whole world upside down. Instead of kneeling before the candles keeping vigil in the chapel, he opens the door and accepts the quest given to him by a desperate old man. From there, he ends up finding a dying hero, receiving a mission to the king of the neighboring country, being chased by the nefarious Red Knights, and crossing impassable mountains to a land more beautiful than anything he has ever seen. But with danger all around can he keep the letter safe, the mission secret, and the kingdom free from a threat he does not fully comprehend?

The fantasy world in this novel was light and bright and unique. There were certainly evil characters in the story, but the dark atmosphere and foreboding evil from a book like The Lord of the Rings was not present. Along the way, Tiuri makes friends in unlikely places with helpful monks, honorable lords, a friendly lord’s daughter, a wise hermit, and a shepherd boy who becomes his best friend. Every farmer he meets offers him a place to sleep, and the general atmosphere of the land he travels feels kind and God-fearing. This book reminded me a little bit of Howard Pyle’s adventures of King Arthur and his knights.

The structure of the story was in an older style, with characters Tiuri meets telling discursive stories about past history. At the same time, however, the plot was also fairly fast moving with lots of different adventures and challenges. I particularly liked the bookends of the story that address whether Tiuri will have to give up his dream to become a knight when he goes on the adventure that is every knight’s dream.

The book is listed for grades 7-9, but I think children grades 5-6 would enjoy it as much if not more. Originally published in The Netherlands in 1962, it has sold over a million copies worldwide. The author, interestingly, was originally from Indonesia, but after being placed in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, she immigrated to The Netherlands. The book has a sequel (which I am going to try to get my hands on) about Tiuri’s further adventures in the Wild Wood.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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