Tuesday, 8 December 2009
‘The Toymaker’ - Jeremy De Quidt (David Fickling Books)
I know it’s hard to believe but every so often I get ‘book burn out’ and just recently it’s been a real pain in the... you know. I pick up a book with every intention of finishing it, get about fifty pages in and end up putting it down. It’s not the book’s fault (they all have the potential to be really good), more a case of my having read so much recently that not only am I tired but all the books seem to be merging into one ‘uber-book’...
What do you do when you find yourself in a similar situation? I wanted to keep the run going (I’m not doing too badly compared to previous years) so wondered if the best way round the slump was to pick up something completely different and see if that kick started things. I don’t normally read a lot of Young Adult stuff and Jeremy De Quidt’s ‘The Toymaker’ was waiting for me when I got home last night. Sometimes things just fall into place and you have to go with the flow.... I started on ‘The Toymaker’ and it was midnight before I knew it.
The death of your only relative is bad enough but when Mathias becomes the owner of a mysterious piece of paper his life becomes even worse. The sinister Doctor Leiter appears on the scene with a doll that can tell if Mathias is lying and a coachman who’s not afraid to use torture to ensure that Mathias reveals a secret that he knows nothing about. Mathis must uncover this secret if he is to stand any chance of survival but where is he to start? He can’t hang around either, time is running out...
‘Even little dolls with sparrows’ hearts sometimes remember they were sparrows once...’
‘The Toymaker’ is one of those books that had me wondering why I don’t give Young Adult books more of a chance (to be fair, there are a lot of adult books that I want to read first!); very much a book that I would have loved when I was a lot younger and one that I am glad to have discovered now.
I did have initial misgivings though. A boy with a mysterious past on a quest to find out a secret that he doesn’t know? Call me cynical but I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard that one before. That’s what I thought anyway but De Quidt had other plans in mind. Here’s an author who’s not afraid to string his readers along and then cut that string just when people are starting to get comfortable. De Quidt is good at it as well; in the space of a few pages everything suddenly changes and you find yourself reading a different story to the one that you thought. This new tack works as well, while there’s no denying that element of the fantastic the way it all plays out (especially the incredibly bleak ending!) just seems so much more likely. Things may work out in the end but when you’re up against the forces of evil you’re always going to be messed up by the time you cross the line... De Quidt really puts his characters through the wringer and seems to know not only what young readers can take but also what they want to hear about. If you’re reading this to a very young child though then you might want to think twice as the ending is harrowing for one character in particular...
The backdrop to ‘The Toymaker’ is a deliciously brooding gothic affair, full of dark forests and grimy back streets where evil lurks. Our heroes not only have to find their way through this maze of darkness but must also negotiate the boundaries of their tenuous alliance. Everyone is out for their own interests and the outcomes of this can (and do) send the plot in interesting new directions.
Killer dolls are always welcome in my reading and De Quidt comes up trumps on this score. His creations blend seamlessly into the dark background and De Quidt is equally adept at using these automatons in scenes of violent action as he is at using them to rack up the tension and horror. When I do my Christmas shopping, there’s one toymaker that I definitely won’t be visiting!
If I had one complaint it’s that slow journeys through woodland always slow plots right down; especially when none of the characters are in the mood to talk to each other. This is very much the case in ‘The Toymaker’ and there were points when I wanted things to move a little faster. This is a very small complaint though. I was enthralled by ‘The Toymaker’ and the blurb certainly wasn’t exaggerating when it said the story would ‘haunt you’. I don’t know if ‘The Toymaker’ has given me back my ‘reading mojo’ but I had a great time reading it anyway. Very much a contender for surprise find of the year.
Nine and a Half out of Ten