Review: The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

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Picture credit: http://www.netgalley.com

The Toymakers sounds initially like such a good book. Magical realism! The world of the toy shop! Set in the first half of the twentieth century! Romance! Excitement! What’s not to like?

What a disappointment I was in for! My feelings about this book started off great, then descended gradually towards apathy and boredom as it dragged on…and on…and on…yawn. I started off thinking that the novel could be given a five star review but soon changed my mind. Such a shame.

The Toymakers is the story of Cathy, a pregnant teenager. She runs away from home to avoid having her child taken off her for adoption and ends up working at Papa Jack’s Emporium, a magical toy shop in London. She befriends the owner’s sons (Kaspar and Emil Godman) who give her a place to stay and raise her child. However, the First World War strikes and leaves Cathy literally holding the baby. The war changes the Godman family forever, and a rift between the brothers begins a slow decline of their lives together.

At first, The Toymakers is utterly enchanting. The world of the toy shop, the special magic that makes Emporium toys just a little bit more real, the ideas that the family have for creating the most fantastic playthings are all completely spellbinding. The world of the Emporium is beautifully crafted and the magical realism reminded me of The Night Circus or The Paper Magician. There’s a floating castle, paper trees that shoot out of boxes, wind up animals that behave like real pets…I loved the sense of excitement and inventiveness.

However, as time passes and the war begins I began to loose interest in the story. There’s a slow decline in the profits of the Emporium but there’s very little action except for a slow burning resentment between the two brothers. It’s almost as if the author himself began to get bored, as the years begin to turn faster and faster. The lack of interesting plot began to depress me, as none of the characters are happy and things start to fall apart.

I initially liked the gumption of Cathy – the desire to see the world, her resolve to keep her baby and her work ethic all made me warm to her. However, as the book progressed she seemed to get dragged down (along with the rest of the plot) and she became a bit wooden. I hated – HATED – the stupid half love triangle depicted between her and the two Godman brothers, especially when Emil effectively claims Cathy and she doesn’t protest. Neither of them appear to be particularly enamoured with her and Cathy seems to grow out of any feelings she had for either Kaspar or Emil (until the rubbish ending). It seems like a competition between the boys as to who can win Cathy and I thought the book would have been much better without the odd tension.

I really liked little Martha (Cathy’s daughter) and I thought a lot more could have been done with her character. It’s such a shame that she jumped from being a child to a 27 year old woman in the space of one sentence. I would have liked to know more about her life and it could have provided some light relief through the depressing middle section.

The ending to the book is beautifully depicted (although ridiculous and annoying) but I’m afraid that even the breathtaking scenes at the very end couldn’t salvage the storyline. I’ve never read a book that manages to be so good and so bad at the same time.

Overall, I loved certain parts of this book and thought that the inventiveness and creativity was great. I loved the world of the Emporium, the language used and the sense of wonder that was portrayed. Sadly, I felt that the book lost its way and it really dragged towards the end.

Overall rating: 3/5
Inventive, exciting and magical…for the first few chapters at least. All downhill from then on.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!