Twins can be an absolute boon to the inventive children’s writer. Just imagine the potential for mischievous identity swaps, double vision, mistaken identity, and all manner of duplicate hijinks. This is what we get in The Goldsmith and the Master Thief by Tonke Dragt. Inspired by traditional fairytales and set in a medieval time of chivalry and feudalism, this is the life story of Laurenzo and Jiacomo. Available for the first time in the UK, it’s an adventure-filled delight for fans of the bestselling The Letter for the King.
Laurenzo and Jiacomo are ‘…as alike as two drops of water or two grains of sand.’ Born to a humble cobbler, the twins are materially poor but their young lives are rich in fun and adventure and they are both joyfully exploitative of the benefits of twinhood. Prepare to be impressed by their method of avoiding full-time school!
These carefree days come to a sad end when the boys’ parents unexpectedly die. Orphaned and penniless at the age of fifteen, Laurenzo and Jiacomo hit the road in search of a new life.
Here’s where it gets intriguing, because they encounter a literal and metaphorical fork in the road. Laurenzo is drawn to the skilled and creative world of goldsmithery, but lazy and impulsive Jiacomo is seduced by the tricksy world of the professional thief. A life of knavery beckons.
Admirers of Tonke Dragt’s 1962 Dutch classic, The Letter for the King, will recognise her very particular brand of old-fashioned adventure. The twins encounter a rotating crop of characters, including such bygone characters as noblemen, merchants and peddlers. There are cunning riddles for them to solve, treasures to amass, and a fair maiden to fall in love with (naturally and painfully of course, the same one)
I enjoyed the authorial sleight of hand with its clever riddle-making and occasional foray into a comedy of errors. A vintage delight.
The Goldsmith and the Master Thief by Tonke Dragt is published by Pushkin Childrens, 416 pages.