REVIEW: The Toymakers, Robert Dinsdale

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Do you remember when you believed in magic? The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open! It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium. For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical...

If I’m being honest, for a while I balked at the prospect of reading The Toymakers. I had just finished Weave a Circle Round and I’m 22 - I didn’t know if I could make it through another book targeted towards children.
But oh boy, I was mistaken.
Don’t be fooled as I was by the toy solider on the book’s cover, inside of these pages is not a story that a parent might read to their child to lull them to sleep. Instead, The Toymakers is aimed at the adults who have long since left childhood behind, mirroring the nature of those in the book who return to Papa Jack’s Emporium in an attempt of remembering the simple, wistful magic of their youth. "Do you remember when you believed in magic?” the blurb asks, and if it’s magic that you are after, this book gives you it in spades - it’s practically spilling from each and every word.
The Toymakers is evocative, set in a time period that nearly predates everyone alive today and yet manages to make them feel nostalgic for a world that they never experienced. There’s a sense of anticipation, like children in the early hours of Christmas morning who are waiting for the sun to rise and Santa to arrive, and the feeling is so strong that it makes me question why this book wasn’t released in the lead up to Christmas. Those snowy, dark November and December days would have been a perfect atmosphere to do the ambience of this book justice, and I will definitely be tucking it away to read on a frosty evening next Winter.
Throughout The Toymakers, Robert Dinsdale seamlessly juxtaposes this nearly-inexplicable feeling of warmth and wonder and home, with the brutal realities of wartime London - it is a stark combination that heightens each, making the wonders more wonderful and the horrors all that more horrifying.
I laughed, I wept, I smiled.
The Toymakers is not a book that I am going to be able to stop thinking about anytime soon.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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