Monday, 2 March 2020

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Review: The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

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The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

Published: 8th February 2018 | Publisher: Del Rey | Cover Designer: Head Design | Cover Illustrator: Laura Barrett | Source: NetGalley
Robert Dinsdale's Website

The Emporium opens with the first sign of frost...

It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment.

The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles on their own.

Into this family business comes young Cathy Wray, running away from a shameful past. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own...
From Goodreads.

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I received sent this eProof for free from Del Rey via NetGalley for the purposes of providing an honest review.

Rep: Main character who develops with PTSD.


I was really intrigued by The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale when I first heard about it. A toyshop that sells magical toys? Sign me up! I've recently been looking for enchanting books that feel like a fairy tale, and saw reviews on Goodreads comparing The Toymakers to The Night Circus, which is just what I'm looking for. And while it wasn't exactly what I was expecting, The Toymakers is absolutely beautiful.

It's 1906, Cathy is 15-years-old, and pregnant. Because of the scandal it would cause, her parents have arranged for her to go into a home for unmarried mothers to have her baby, and then have the baby adopted. But Cathy desperately wants her baby, so when she sees an advert in the vacancies section of the newspaper for Papa Jack's Emporium, reading, "Are you lost? Are you afraid?" she makes the decision to get a job there as a shop hand, and keep her baby. But the Emporium isn't what she expected. It's the Godman family business, and they make their own magical toys; Instant Tress, where when the shell is broken, out pop full size paper versions of various trees; patchwork and clockwork toys that come to life; toy boxes that where the insides go on forever; a wendy house that's bigger on the inside; and so much more. The decision to go to the Emporium and work with Papa Jack, and his sons Kasper and Emil, is one that will change the course of her life forever.

The Toymakers is a truly magical story. While the shop holds such wonders, and more are invented as the story goes on, making you yearn to be a child again and wish the shop was real, it's not actually the fantastic that is the focus of the story. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of the fantastic - the toys in this book really blew my mind, and would rival the wonders created by the magicians in The Night Circus - this book focuses more on the human story, the everyday magic. It's a story of family, heartbreak, and tragedy; of love and of jealousy; of competition and of feeling inadequate; of trauma and PTSD; of the worst kind of betrayal. It's a story that spans years and two World Wars, from teenagehood to old age, with the love and joy and hardships and tragedy that are apart of life.

Kasper and Emil are a year apart in age, but Kasper far surpasses his younger brother when it comes to the magical side of toymaking. While Emil's toys - especially his wind-up toy soldiers - would be incredible in any other other toyshop, they're not magical. He's never really worked out how to do it, and is in constant competition with his brother. He feels inadequate, and it doesn't help that Kasper knows he's better and will always strive to do better. When Cathy arrives, a friendship is formed between her and the two boys. But what she doesn't realise is that when Winter ends, the shop hands go home. Having found out that she's pregnant, Kasper is determined to help her, and smuggles her into the wendy house. Inside it's as big as a normal room, and he's decked it out with a hot plate and kettle, and with food to last her. When Emil discovers she's there, he thinks she herself decided to stay in the wendy house, and is determined to help her. Knowing Emil needs to have something that is just his, even if it's only a secret, she doesn't tell him that Kasper brought her there, and doesn't tell Kasper that Emil knows. When Cathy goes into labour, the truth is discovered, and so another layer of bitterness and envy is added to the mix, as both boys have fallen in love with Cathy, but she only loves one.

As I've mentioned, this story spans years, so this is just the tip of the iceberg. The story follows the relationships between Cathy and the boy she loves, between Kasper and Emil, and all of them, including Papa Jack - or Jekabs, his real name - as a family, and the fortune of the business. Things drastically change when one of the brothers goes off to fight in the First World War. The man who returns is not the man who left, and the changes in him effect the whole toyshop. He suffers from severe PTSD, though no label is given. The wind-up toy soldiers surrender and refuse to fight, and the Emporium is never the same again as a result.

What's wonderful about this story is that while it's mostly from the perspective of Cathy, we do get to see things from the perspectives of the other characters, too. So you can absolutely see where every character is coming from, and it's difficult to think too badly about anyone - until. You understand Emil's resentment and envy, and how it builds; how he tries and tries, but it's never enough,and it doesn't matter what anyone says. You really feel for him. I liked him, and I got him. I just wished he had more faith in himself, and saw that it was his constant competition with Kasper that was the problem. Yet Kasper just gets better and better, and revels in the excitement and of creating some new wonder. He's so exuberant, and just jumps off the page, and I really warmed to him. Then there's the war, and the changes in people is astounding, and not just in regards to PTSD.

There are some truly awful things that happen in this book, alongside such wonders, and not just in regards to war and PTSD, though those are bad enough. There are times when this book is so hard to read, and sometimes you simply can't believe what is happening. It's just unbearable and unthinkable, and so very upsetting.

The Toymakers is also so gorgeously written. It's beautifully enchanting, and feels like a fairy tale, even with the focus being a much more human than fantastical one. There are so many bookmarked pages of quotes that are just so lovely and need to be remembered. And the toys! The toys really are just incredible, and there's so much wonder and joy! And we're never really told how the magic works, and I just love that! And Papa Jack is a gentle giant, a real life Father Christmas, and just the most lovely, lovely man. I so wish we had more of him! He has gone through so much in his life - such terrible things - yet he's never let it make him hard and hateful. He is just the most beautiful soul, and I love him.

The way the book ends is both a punch in the gut, and possibly the most gorgeous thing I have ever read. It was at first devastating, then filled me with so much joy. Just incredible! The Toymakers is a story that is going to stick with me for a very, very long time. I implore you to read this book!

Thank you to Del Rey via NetGalley for the eProof.

You might also like:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Over to you graphic

What do you think of fantastical stories that focus more on the human story? Do you want your magic explained in enchanting stories, or would that spoil it? Do you like books that span decades? Have you read The Toymakers, or will you be picking it up now? Let me know in the comments!

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