The Toy Makers is a new book (out on 8th February), which I received for review from Net-Galley. I picked it purely on the blurb, which pretty much lived up to expectations, but I think focused more on the toy aspect than the very real human relationships within the pages – and the impacts of World War 1.
The Toy Makers
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… [Goodreads]
Firstly, it is confusing to the reader/reviewer when the cover clearly says, The Toy Makers, and the listings refer to The Toymakers. My publications would be rejected for having incorrect metadata. However…
Although the book starts with a ‘later’ scene, we quickly go back and take a continuous narrative, to follow the fortunes of Cathy and the people who come into her life. In reality, she came into theirs, since we spend little time in the dismal reaches of pre-war Leigh-on-Sea (a town on the Thames estuary to the east of London). She runs away to London, having seen an advertisement for staff for Papa Jack’s Emporium. That, she thinks, is a safe place for a girl who needs a safe place to run to. Her reminder to herself, about running away from the voice inside your head, the one telling you to stay where you are, is a brilliant insight into why people leave home with nothing.
I think everyone will be astounded at the sheer opulence of the description of this magical emporium. The author’s imagination knows no bounds. How he thinks up all the toys that Papa Jack and his two sons imagine, I have no idea. Jo Rowling would be jealous. The range and depth of detail surrounding these magical artefacts are almost enough in themselves. I kept thinking, someone will love turning this into a film.
Papa Jack tells how he came to be a toy maker, and his sons try their best to emulate him. Both have talent, but one has the gift, or maybe its the belief. Occasionally the reader gains an insight into exactly what it takes to make the most innovative magical toys, only for the secret to slip away again as the reality of the brothers’ competitive zeal, and eventually jealousy, divides them. World War 1 does not help, but it divides them physically, and emotionally – it makes little difference to the reality of their relationship. And it the relationships that I found made this book so magical, whether between family members, lovers, dedicated staff, or the toys whose relationship was so much more like companion animals than mere playthings.
The developments from thereon are beautifully logical, allowing the ‘magical realism’ tag to earn its place. Self-awareness and group psychology all have their role to play in the science fiction element of this book. The toy makers’ story becomes secondary to that of the toys, but only for a while, since Cathy’s story continues throughout.
There was some imbalance of the pacing of the book. There is a long flat patch before reaching the denouement, which perhaps could have been edited. But this is a first class book with a touch of brilliance about the ideas. Yet it is also another potential award-winner that pays no attention to the ‘rules’ on how to write best-sellers. Description rules this book, as it did most of my best of 2017, and some of it does so for the sheer joy of it.
I’ve been giving away copies of my Princelings paperbacks to readers living outside the USA, since they are disenfranchised from the new Goodreads regime. The giveaway for the third in the series, The Princelings and the Lost City (still my favourite), closes on Tuesday 13th.