The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal, 3 Stars

I write to you today from the last month of summer. Okay, to be fair, the last month of the kids being off school for summer. But something tells me it is going to be in the 90’s in October this year. Summer took a long time to really get started this year and now it’s never going to leave.

I talk about the weather a lot. But really, all we do in the Midwest is complain about the weather. It’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too cloudy. You know. Gives us boring Midwesterners something to talk about.

Today I’m reviewing The Doll Factory, which was quite a different type of read for me. Booklist gave it a starred review, saying, “This terrifically exciting novel will jolt, thrill, and bewitch readers.”

Elements of the description also reminded me of The Devil in the White City, which is one of my favorite books of all time, detailing the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and the serial killer who stalked it’s attendees.

If you haven’t read that one, check it out! I think the movie is coming out still some day. It has Leonardo DiCaprio I think. I can’t find any info to confirm that though. Any of you know anything?

The Doll Factory is bit different–it is fiction for one, and it takes place in 1950’s London at the Great Exposition. There is also a murderer though and the book had a similar feel for me.

From the Publisher:

In 1850s London, the Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and, among the crowd watching the dazzling spectacle, two people meet by happenstance. For Iris, an arrestingly attractive aspiring artist, it is a brief and forgettable moment but for Silas, a curiosity collector enchanted by all things strange and beautiful, the meeting marks a new beginning.

When Iris is asked to model for Pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly, her world begins to expand beyond her wildest dreams—but she has no idea that evil is waiting in the shadows. Silas has only thought of one thing since that chance meeting, and his obsession is darkening by the day.

“A page-turning psychological thriller” (Essie Fox, author of The Somnambulist) that will haunt you long after you finish it, The Doll Factory is perfect for fans of The Alienist, Drood, and The Historian.

My Review:

At the beginning of the book, we meet Iris and her twin sister Rose who are working for a doll maker. They are miserable and although they are paid, it doesn’t seem much more than a step above slave labor. Rose was always the pretty one, while Iris had a deformed collarbone due to an injury at birth. By the time they are reisigned to their sad life at the doll store, however, Rose has lost her beauty to small pox and both sisters live a sad existence.

The catalyst in this story is a dirty little street rat named Albie. He totally reminded me of that scrappy little kid in Les Miserables. You know the one-“you better run for cover when the pup grows up.” He’s street smart and does what he needs to do to survive. He delivers doll dresses to the sisters. He has another “client”, Silas, who likes to get dead animals. So the poor little boy always smells like death and decay carrying around dead rodents. But it’s Albie who connects all the characters and leads to Iris starting to rise about her position in life.

When Iris meets Louis, he seems too good to be true. He admires her beauty and convinces her to be his model and apprentice. With Louis, Iris’s world cracks wide open and she starts to live a life she loves.

I won’t go into details on the rest of the story because I don’t want to ruin anything. This story definitely feels a bit dark, gothic, and the tone harkens to Dicken’s books or Madame Bovary. And describing it here, it really does sound like an amazing book. But for whatever reason, it was hard for me to get into it. I just don’t think the genre is my cup of tea.

I would definitely recommend this to fans of historical fiction, however. I applaud Elizabeth MacNeal for penning such a unique book in this age of thrillers that often times blend together because their plots can be so similar.

Special thanks to Netgalley and Atria Books for an e-galley in exchange for my honest review. This one releases August 12! Get your copy:


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