I received The Toymakers in exchange for an honest review
I read this novel over Christmas, and it was the last book I read last year. It was the perfect finish to my 2017 reading; not quite what I expected, but something even better.
The cover and blurb for The Toymakers alludes to it being a heart-warming, whimsical Christmas tale. I expected something light-hearted, and I got that in places but a lot more as well. Don’t be fooled by the cute, festive cover – this book has hidden depths.
“Are you lost? Are you afraid? Are you a child at heart? So are we.”
Teenager Cathy is pregnant and scared. She wants to escape the control of her parents and, when she sees this advert in the newspaper, she sees an opportunity to do so. She embarks on a journey to London, to Papa Jack’s Emporium.
In turn-of-the-century London, the Emporium opens at first frost every winter. It’s a magical place of times gone by where anything can happen; the toys could even come to life.
Dinsdale captures the city and era wonderfully, but the star of the story here is the Emporium itself; a toyshop with magic inside its walls, where it seems anything is possible. As Cathy arrives, the shop is in its glory days, loved by all who visit, but the story follows this special place to its inevitable demise.
As I said at the beginning, this book has hidden depths. It opens with a beautiful prologue which promises a cosy Victorian fairytale, but it isn’t just a tale of magic and toys, it’s also a story of war. We follow Cathy, the shop’s owner Papa Jack and his two sons, Kaspar and Emil as WWII hits England.
Kaspar and Emil have always been in a battle for the Emporium, played out with their toy soldiers which bring customers flocking to their doors each season, but when a bigger war rages at their door, they must step up, even if it means leaving the comfort of the Emporium they’ve grown up in behind them.
The Toy Makers is reminiscent of one of my favourite books, The Night Circus in the magical, enchanting prose and the evocative descriptions which bring the magic to life. It also carries that same underlying feeling of darkness, and an ongoing battle – in this case the sibling rivalry between Kaspar and Emil – which underlies the story. Everything ties together beautifully, from the toy soldiers to the real battlefield and the magical realism weaved throughout the novel. The characters are well-drawn and the atmosphere is pitch perfect. Robert Dinsdale casts an an enchanting spell with the Toy Makers, and it’s a magic which everyone should experience.