books · review

Review of The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt

The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt attracted me at once with its creepy cover showing a sinister wooden doll pointing at a card marked ‘Lies’ while another one marked ‘Truth’ lies beside it.  Essentially it is a breath-snatching chase through a fantasy land where life is hard, people are cruel and dangerous and a toymaker can cut up animals and put their hearts in his creations.

The ToymakerThe two main characters, magician’s helper Mathias and maid Katta, spend most of the book on the run from a vicious, murderous dwarf and his master Leiter, who is searching for a piece of paper that belonged to Mathias’s supposed grandfather.  Their escapes are narrow and both suffer terribly through the book.  There are few sympathetic characters apart from the children; adults are selfish, manipulative and frequently violent.  Without giving too much away, the book ends with the death of one of the main characters.  Taking these points into consideration, I won’t be passing it on to my twelve year old son to read as I think he would find it too distressing, although horror fans of that age will probably lap it up the gory details.

My other concern with this book is the way it ends.  Research online does not reveal it is the start of a series and yet that is exactly how it reads.  There is a late plot development which reveals the real reason behind the chase, but to me it feels too late and so it is unconvincing if this book is to stand alone.  I also feel the title is misleading; again, unless it is the start of a series, the Toymaker does not play much part in the actual story.  I would like to have found out more about Marguerite, the doll who can tell truth from lies, and again she is given prominence on the cover but takes a small part in the actual tale.  I was left feeling frustrated that the plot had really just begun and I was being pushed back out of the story.

The author writes beautifully and he has a real sense for the macabre; the atmosphere is chilling and the escape scenes nail-bitingly thrilling.  A longer book with a resolution, or packaging of the book as the first in a series, would make the experience more complete – although I would still only recommend it for children with a strong stomach and the emotional maturity to cope with a traumatic ending.


Adventures in a real bookshop

Surely there can be nothing more enjoyable than walking into a bookshop on a dreary grey day armed with £15 worth of tokens and the assistance of the most enthusiastic sales assistant I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of dealing with?  As I won the tokens for a Writing for Children competition I thought it was only fitting to spend them on some top YA and 8-12 novels, and the shelves were literally bulging with goodies.  (So tightly packed, in fact, that one needs two hands in order to prize a book out from between its bedfellows.)  I’d forgotten how pleasurable it is just to browse, judging a book by its cover alone rather than by price, 5 star reviews or the recommendations of the Amazon robot.

The ToymakerThe first book to catch my eye was The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt.  I knew nothing of the title or the author, but the cover features a wonderfully sinister jointed doll pointing to the word ‘Lies’, and the blurb is poetically creepy – “Hold your breath, because the little coachman with the razor sharp knife is coming.”  One to be read in a light, crowded room I think!

LeviathanIt’s always a joy to find a new book by a favourite author, and Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan looks wonderful.  With its steam punk style cover, raised silver title and quote from the Sunday Telegraph – “When a book pursues you into your dreams, you can’t ignore it” – it promises to be an intriguing read.  Westerfeld’s Uglies quartet is an inventive, action packed read and I know he won’t disappoint.

The Faceless OnesAnd for my third choice, it was really time to catch up with the third volume of Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series, The Faceless Ones, especially with the fourth book already out in hardback.  Landy combines laughter, horror and action with ease – although what’s happened to the colour-tipped pages?  I prefer the look of my other two volumes with their distinctive orange and green edges.

A gold star for Waterstones, then, for not only giving me a great 3 for 2 deal but also recommending a host of new books for the next time I’m in store.  Chris Priestly, Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book and the last Chaos Walking book by Patrick Ness await my next visit.  Perhaps it’s time to give up my murky Amazon Sellers habit for good.