Book Review: Seventeen Against the Dealer (Tillerman Cycle)

I finished out my reread of the Tillerman Cycle by Cynthia Voigt with the final book, Seventeen Against the Dealer.  I’ve loved revisiting the Tillerman family, getting inside each of their heads (as Voigt does so well!) and watching them navigate and struggle with goals, identities and connections.

This last book brings us back into the point of view of Dicey, lead character of the first two books.  At twenty-one, Dicey has dropped out of college to start her own boat-building business.  With her usual fierce pride and independence, she’s determined to make her own way with her business, accepting no help and incurring no debts.  She faces setback after setback, and her solution is always to work harder…so hard that she doesn’t notice the people she’s pulling away from in the process.  The title is metaphorical, about making a risky bet in Black Jack, reflected in the book by the gambles Dicey makes throughout as she struggles toward her goal.

This final book wraps back to the beginning in a nice way by putting the focus on Dicey again (which it hasn’t been for four books).  It also continues the theme of the Tillerman tendency to keep oneself apart–needing no one and relying on no one.  That was part of Dicey’s character in her earlier two books, and we saw the quality taken to an extreme with Bullet in the fourth book, The Runner.  In this book Dicey seems on a path to be like Bullet, so self-reliant that she’s cutting off all other ties.  This is a satisfying ending to the series in part because Dicey (and her grandmother) ultimately learns something about needing other people–not giving up her strength or will but realizing that she doesn’t have to do everything alone.

She also learns something about trusting the right people.  Dicey does reluctantly accept help from one person on her boat business–Cisco, a merchant sailor between jobs, who I think gets past Dicey’s automatic refusal of help because he doesn’t seem to want anything in return.  Cisco is charming and irritating by turns, smart but irresponsible.  And while I don’t want to give spoilers, I’ll just say that accepting help from Cisco does not ultimately end well for Dicey.

I have a theory about Cisco, one that the book never confirms or denies, and which I can’t seem to find stated anywhere online (apart from some mysterious “he may be more than he seems” notes).  So I don’t know if this is my personal theory, or an accepted one people typically get from the story!  But I’m convinced that Cisco is actually Dicey’s father, Francis.  It’s not a big leap from Francis to Cisco, and Dicey’s even pretty sure that Cisco was lying when he gave his name.  What little we know about Francis seems reflected by Cisco, both in biographical details (like the sailing background) and in character.

The book never mentions that possibility, let alone confirming it, and it never passes through Dicey’s mind, even as a brief thought.  But it adds up–Dicey could easily not recognize her father, who disappeared when she was six; she has her name up on her shop so Francis could have found her deliberately; and Cisco never meets Gram (who could recognize him) or even Dicey’s brother James, who tried to find Francis in the previous book and would probably put the pieces together here.

I think I want Cisco to be Francis because it would tie the whole series together so well.  So much of it has been about family, and the ways family members can fail each other–or support one another. And that second part is what makes this a hopeful series, despite the very real challenges and disappointments the characters also experience.

Like the ones before it, I recommend this last book in the series…and if you have recommendations of other books by Voigt, please tell me!  Now that I’ve finished this reread, maybe I’ll finally get onto reading her other books…

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Buy it here: Seventeen Against the Dealer

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Seventeen Against the Dealer (Tillerman Cycle)

  1. Cass

    I’ve always thought the same thing about her father, if that helps. He knew her mother when she still lived in Maryland so he would know where to find them of he had heard about the boys looking for him before.

  2. Melanie

    I have the same theory. Also, in “The Runner” Francis is described as having “dark hair and light eyes” and in in “Seventeen” Cisco is described as having dark hair and light brown eyes. He asks Dicey a lot of questions about the other kids, as if to really find out how they were doing. His potential age does add up. In “Sons From Afar” his grade school teacher described him as being very smart. So, if Cisco is Francis, he’s either a real smooth talker or very smart indeed. Or both. And and con man to boot. I think Cisco is Francis… but to have anybody else see him, to confirm it (such as Gram) would spoil that ability for the reader to draw the conclusion for themselves.

    1. Clare

      I am happy to see I am not alone to consider the idea of Cisco being Francis. It’s also nice not to have a final answer from the book, because if Cisco is Francis, it does make him quite bad as he ends up betraying Dicey, betraying his daughter. So… I like the book as it is, with not definite answer.

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