SEVENTH SON, the Movie: a Review

We went and checked out the competition the other day. By which I mean to say, we went to see the Seventh Son movie that was released last week, which, just to reiterate, has nothing to do with my Seventh Son novel, beyond the concept that the seventh son of a seventh son has special magical abilities.

I was, quite frankly, a little apprehensive about going to that movie. You see, I read the book it’s based on, Joseph Delaney’s The Spook’s Apprentice, or rather, The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch (that’s the American title). That book has the potential for a SCARY movie. Plus, the film is rated 14A around here, and that alone would make me, usually, stay away from it. I don’t do scary.

But as it turns out, the movie has very little to do with Delaney’s novel, either. Oh, they retain the basic premise, and the names of the characters. But other than that they’ve taken a quite innovative storyline, and pounded it flat into a stereotypical, run-of-the-mill fantasy movie plot, which might have been okay as a made-for-TV story, but on the big screen is a waste of money, special effects and great acting talent.

Speaking of acting talent, as I mentioned before, one of the reasons I made myself go see the movie is that it has the daughter of a friend of mine in it, Lilah Fitzgerald. But that, too, was a disappointment – Lilah gets hardly any screen time; apparently most of her scenes were cut. And that’s too bad, because Lilah’s character, Tom’s little sister, had the potential to carry one of the major themes of the story, that of Tom having to give up his family in order to do the work he is called to do.

But then, most of the key themes of the book were simply left out of the movie. Just to give you a brief synopsis, what the story is about is Tom Ward, a farm boy, the seventh son of a seventh son. He becomes apprentice to the Spook, whose job it is to deal with spirits or creatures of magic. Their greatest antagonist is Mother Malkin, an evil witch, who is out for revenge for the Spook’s having locked her up in a hole for the last however-many decades (or centuries, or something). There’s also a young witch named Alice, with whom Tom gets involved, who throws all kinds of wrenches into the works.


Incidentally, none of that is a spoiler; it’s no more than what you get from watching the movie trailers. And because the trailers hit those major plot points, which are also the main points of the book, I fully expected the film to live up to the book – hence my apprehension about going to see it. But as it turns out, the things that would have made the movie really bothersome to watch were left out. Yes, the film is still scary; I wouldn’t recommend it for young kids or other sensitive souls. But it doesn’t warrant the 14A label it got here in BC; I think the PG13 it was given in the US is closer to the mark in comparison with other fantasy movies out there, say, Harry Potter or The Hobbit, which have equally scary scenes (albeit with better narrative reasons).

Seventh Son is bristling with fire-breathing movie monsters; however, they’re rather stereotypical as far as movie monsters go – again, if you watch the trailer, you’ve pretty much seen it all. And even the most hideously scary character from the book, the witch herself, is stereotyped to such an extent she loses in translation. Mother Malkin, in print, is creepy; her evil is profoundly frightening. Julianne Moore’s screen version is just another nasty character with a grudge against an old guy in a white beard – as a matter of fact, Moore is more antagonistic as Mrs Cheveley in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, where she’s playing a mean Victorian lady trying to blackmail an honourable man, than she is as a shape-shifting witch.

Another character that is completely changed from the book is Tom’s mother. I don’t want to give anything away here, but the film version of the mother is turned into, again, a stereotype, the Fantasy Hero’s Mother who wrings her hands at her boy’s departure into war and danger and wants to keep him safe at home – which is the exact opposite of the character in the book, who has been planning for this very thing since Tom’s birth. One minor beef I have with the casting here is that Tom’s mother is played by Olivia Williams, who is no more than thirteen years older than Ben Barnes (Tom), and it shows. He is supposed to be her seventh son – when did she start having kids, at three years of age? It’s just one of those inconsistencies that made me scratch my head. Ditto for all the changes of clothing that Tom seems to have at his disposal, without a suitcase in sight or anything.

Well, I’ll stop grousing now. All told, the film isn’t really all that bad. I went into it with fairly strong expectations, most of which were disappointed. But it’s not like I hated it, and the fact that it wasn’t as scary as I’d feared is a good thing (for me – I hate getting nightmares). I did spend a couple of rather enjoyable hours in the theatre; there are some definite good points about this movie.

The actors are one – Ben Barnes is excellent (and oh-so-handsome); Julianne Moore is good, of course; and even though Lilah Fitzgerald didn’t get nearly as much screen time as she deserved, I did get to see her in a movie, so that’s great. Another fun aspect for me was that the movie was shot in and around Vancouver; the outdoor scenes are recognisably West Coast with its majestic scenery. The visuals are good; in fact, if we weren’t so utterly spoiled nowadays by over-the-top-fantastic special effects, they would probably be utterly mindblowing. My favourite CG scene (it’s in the trailer) is the one where the wizard transforms himself into a dragon, trailing chains turning into wings. Pretty nifty, that. And even the ‘simple’ visuals, like costuming, were enjoyable – I kept looking really closely at Tom’s knitted sweater, trying to figure out what kind of yarn this is meant to be (at some point in the movie it even changes into looking almost like knitted wire – chain mail stitchery?).

So, bottom line: I’d give this movie a three out of five. It’s not great, but it’s not horrible either. If you’ve got a couple hours to spend on a Tuesday evening when movies are cheap, you could do worse than to watch this one. Or, alternatively, just wait until it comes out on Netflix, and put the money you’d spend on tickets towards buying a copy of my book instead – I picked the title first (better yet, buy several copies, and give some to your friends).

Life, the Universe, and Seventh Son. Just go read my novel.


SeventhSon_CVR_XSMLThe other day someone asked me, once again: “Did you write Seventh Son?” Well, yes, yes I did. However, that’s actually not what they’re asking. They don’t want to know if I wrote a fantasy novel called Seventh Son; it’s something else they have in mind. And so, to answer that question, let me enlighten you about what my SEVENTH SON is NOT.

My novel is not the source text for the movie Seventh Son that is coming out next week (well, in North America it is; the release date is February 6th). The film has been several years in the making,  and stars Ben Barnes (heartthrob!) in the lead role. The source book (or, as they put it, “inspiration”) for that movie is actually not even called Seventh Son, but The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch (original UK title: The Spook’s Apprentice), and it’s written by Joseph Delaney.

Another book my Seventh Son is not is the 1987 novel of that title by the great Orson Scott Card. His book is the first in his series The Tales of Alvin Maker (which he still hasn’t finished, as far as I know).

Hmm, now that I look it up, it appears there’s another work called Seventh Son I was unaware of – a 1926 silent film from Germany. I’ll  have to check that out; maybe Youtube has it.

So, just for the record: none of these stories are mine. And I’m not ripping off any of their ideas, either. In fact, I had written the text and decided on the title of my book before the forthcoming movie was even filmed; and didn’t read the Card book until several years later. Really, what all these stories, mine included, have in common is the old folklore trope that the seventh son of a seventh son has special powers – magical ones, generally. And that’s about all that’s similar, other than the title.

My book is a light romantic fantasy (well, yes, they’re all fantasy stories) about a young woman named Catriona, who looks into a turquoise pottery bowl and suddenly finds herself whisked off to a magical medieval village called Ruph in which the – you guessed it – seventh son of the seventh son has just gone missing, and she has to figure out not only how she ended up where she is and how to get out of that predicament, but what’s been happening in this town. I call it a Cosy Fantasy – you know, like a Cosy Mystery, but in a fantasy environment.

Card’s and Delaney’s stories are much more classical fantasy. Delaney’s would probably classify as Sword and Sorcery – well, definitely the sorcery bit (there’s a very nasty witch); while Card’s is the alternative-history variety – a different 19th-century USA with magic. The stories are darker than anything I would ever write; actually, they get darker yet as the series progress – I gave up on Delaney with the second book, and on Card with about the third volume. They’re well-written books, but I don’t enjoy reading that sort of thing, let alone writing it.

However, “dark” is a matter of definition. Both Delaney’s and Card’s “Seventh Son” stories are also Young Adult novels, at least these first books in the series are, in that the protagonist, the seventh son of the seventh son, is a young boy – twelve years old in the case of Delaney’s Tom Ward, even younger in the case of Card’s Alvin Maker. So what I call “dark” here is really very mild, by fantasy standards – it probably wouldn’t even warrant the term for most readers (yeah, well, I’m super-sensitive. So sue me).

And that’s another thing my book is not: a YA novel. My Catriona is not a teenager, she’s twenty-eight; and the Seventh Son in question is not a twelve-year-old, but right around Cat’s age, too. But that’s not to say that YA readers wouldn’t enjoy the story; in fact, I have it on good authority (i.e. word of mouth/keyboard) that several of them already did.

Incidentally, the movie that’s coming out is not a YA, either. The screen version of Tom Ward is most emphatically not twelve years old – in fact, Ben Barnes is over thirty. I have a feeling the movie might not have a whole lot to do with Delaney’s book. But whether it’s dark or not, I’ll have to go see that film; gotta check out the competition, dontcha know. But more importantly, while I’m a big fan of BB’s, there’s another young actor in that movie I can’t wait to see on the big screen: Lilah Fitzgerald, who plays Tom’s little sister Cate – I’ve met her in real life, although she probably doesn’t remember it (she was quite small then). Her mother is a friend of mine.

When I first heard that a movie with the title Seventh Son was coming out, I seriously considered changing the title of my book (I was going to go back to Septimissimus, which was its working title). But then I thought, No. I picked it first. Actually, Orson Scott Card picked it first, and they didn’t ask his permission about the movie title, as far as I know. Titles aren’t copyrighted, you can use whatever you want. And the basic idea we’ve all named our stories for is something none of us can claim credit for – the originator of that trope is lost in the mists of folklore.

So there you have it: Life, the Universe, and What My Seventh Son Is Not.

Incidentally, speaking of BB – a little side-track-advertising here: there’s a Ben Bauer in Cat and Mouse, the sequel to Seventh Son.  You know, just sayin’ – book release is in just five days! You can pre-order the ebook right now!