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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"The Toymaker" by Jeremy De Quidt (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Order The Toymaker from Amazon UK here or Book depositry here

Introduction: Many people might remember the show Are You Afraid of the Dark?. A classic children's horror show in the 90's. When I read what The Toymaker was about immediately my mind jumped to that show. There was an episode about a girl who notices that her friends have gone missing only to find a dollhouse with dolls that look very similar to her friends. While not exactly the storyline for The Toymaker it grabbed my attention and brought back some very nice memories.

Overview: Somewhere a toymaker sits. He is known for making the most unique dolls and toys in the world. No two dolls are the same. If you look really closely the dolls almost look as if the their eyes move. There is a secret that no one on the outside could guess.

Somewhere a little further away from the town the toymaker works in, there is a traveling circus. Mathias, a young boy whose mother and father have passed, works at the circus with his grandfather, Gustav. Gustav is the conjuror of the show, making things appear and disappear out of no where. Lately in his old age he has become less successful and his tricks have almost become laughable. At night, Gustav has been prone to fits and almost seems afraid of something coming to get him. He has once revealed that he knows a secret but has never told Mathias what that secret is.

At one show stop, a man with a silver tipped cane stands in the back of the crowd watching Gustav's performance. When Gustav looks up it seems as though he almost recognizes this man. In a rush to get away from this mysterious man, Gustav falls off the stage and to his death.

Mathias while attending to Gustav on his death bed, comes across a mysterious piece of paper that has been sewn into the lining of Gustav's jacket as though it doesn't want to be found. A little while later the man with the cane comes in search of something of great importance. Although Mathias claims he isn't hiding anything the man, known as Dr. Leiter, doesn't believe him and takes him away from the traveling circus.

It's from there that Mathias is sent on a wild chase to discover not only what the mysterious paper is about, but also is in a fight for his life. The man with the silver tipped cane, Dr. Leiter, has sent out mysterious creatures in order to capture Mathihas. Mathias with the help of some friends that he comes upon on the way, work to discover the secret that is putting Mathias' life in jeopardy.

Toymaker was released September of 2008 in the UK and most recently released in paperback form on January 1, 2010 also in the UK. It stands at 357 pages and is a YA/children's fantasy/horror novel.

Analysis: The Toymaker is one of those books that although it has a label of "young adult" or "children's" really is just as enjoyable for adults too.

The prologue is very chilling and told in a way that really makes the hairs on your arms stand up. It sets the mood for the way that the rest of the events in the novel are perceived. If it weren't for the haunting prologue this novel might be just another novel about a young boy who finds a mysterious object and goes off to find out what it's about. The prologue makes the book.

Jeremy de Quidt takes a different style of allowing the story to play out. Instead of portraying events as if they are happening right in front of the reader, De Quidt writes the story as if a storyteller is telling the readers what is happening. Therefore, there is very little dialogue and events are summed up in paragraphs or sentences instead of playing out in front of the reader. Although this isn't the case for all events, it does make the story have a different feel to it. This style could easily be portrayed as slow moving, or glossing over details that readers might want to know about. It does take a special reader and a while to get into this style of writing and it might not be for everyone.

This writing style also makes it easy to at first not grasp a true sense of the characters involved in the tale. At first it feels as though a lot of the characters are glanced over in favor of moving the story on. Instead of having the characters all served up to the reader in one sitting, the characters build as the novel moves on. It takes time to learn about each character but it eventually comes around. However a reader looking for instant bonds with a character might not find it right away.

An aspect of this story that should be noted is that although this novel is marketed as a young adult book. There is a lot of violence in this book. I'm not referring to fight scenes or anything of that such, but there is a lot of killing and blood shed. There are also a lot of moments where there is almost unnecessary violence done to both of the young characters. It certainly was an aspect of this book that was unexpected for myself as I was expecting more creep factor and less blood shed. It's an aspect to keep in mind if thinking of this novel for children or younger readers.

My experience with this book was different then other books that I have read. It took me a little under 2 days to read The Toymaker as it was a very quick read. However, when I finished the story my immediate reaction was a feeling of missing something. The story was excellent and I enjoyed it every bit but something was missing for myself. After a few days of thinking about it I realized there were three aspects of the story that caused me not to know if I loved this book immediately after finishing it.

First was the fact that, despite the title there is very little of the toymaker involved in the story. From the blurb of the book, the title and the cover, I realized I was expecting a lot more toy involvement which isn't what the story involved. There is a very creepy doll that knows when you are telling lies and truths, but beyond that the toy aspect of the story seems glossed over. This doll part of the story was easily my favorite part, and one of the most nerve wracking moments of the book. I would have loved to see different toys like this incorporated into the story.

I also really feel as though the whole toymaker area of the book, which starts out this novel, was glossed over and overlooked. If there was more toymaker and less of the characters dealing with their past traumas, my experience might have been a lot different. Going in prepared for this aspect will make this story a lot more enjoyable.

The second aspect was the ending and the amount of creepiness involved. For myself, there wasn't an instant of "wow that's creepy". Instead it took a while for it to sink in. I realized the more I thought about the ending, which sadly I can't reveal or it'd ruin the whole story, the more I got creeped out. Maybe it was the adult reader in me, or maybe it was just something that I needed to think about more. If I was a child and had read this story it easily would have given me the creeps but it took a while for it to sink in and realize just what the whole ending involved.

The third area was the feeling of wanting more. At the end of the novel I had so many questions. Questions about the toymaker, questions about what happens to the town, questions about how the characters deal with what happened. I realize it might be a very open ended ending for a reason, but I have so many questions that weren't answered, and I'm sure on a second reading I'd have a lot more. Maybe there's another book in the works, maybe there isn't, I really could see there being some more and would jump at the opportunity to read more involving this.

In the end, I highly enjoyed reading this book. Although I did feel slightly mislead by the lack of toys involved with this story, that can't take away from a nicely written novel. As stated, there areas of the novel that are very strong: the doll, the telling of past events, and the feeling of dread and creepiness. There are also areas that leave me wanting more or having a lot of questions. This really is a novel that'll have different reactions from different readers based on what they go in expecting. For myself, I enjoyed the novel and would gladly read it again hoping that this time I'd take something different away. I'd gladly recommend this book to someone looking for a break from fantasy and magic, I'd just make sure they were aware of what they were walking into.


syafati said...

I've read the book and I guess I'm still a child. I agree with this review. The toymaker plays a little part. I love the ending, it's creepy to me for some reason. Mathias seems a bit weak, but that's just my opinion.

Ms. Yingling said...

This was just too sad for me. I was expecting something a bit lighter, but this didn't have a light moment in it!

Anonymous said...

Overall the prevalence of sadism and cruelty especially towards the children outweighed any pleasure in the mysterious plotline.


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