Review Blog

Mar 13 2009

The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt

cover image

David Fickling Books, 2008. (Ages 12+)
Highly recommended. This is a stunning debut which is extremely difficult to pigeon hole. I deliberately delayed reviewing it as it engendered such strong reactions from me.
The cover features a dewy eyed girl, in the Anne of Green Gables, Polly-Anna tradition. However, The Toymaker is a thriller with more than a hint of horror, so not only is the cover completely misleading, it immediately dismisses 50% of potential readers as boys will hate it on sight. Once you get past the cover, Gary Blythe's illustrations are outstanding. His picture of the terrifying Valter has a nightmarish quality and would have made a far more stunning cover. Why oh why do publishers still make this mistake? Let's hope they rectify it for the paperback edition.
It's hard to believe that this is a first novel and Jeremy de Quidt is certainly a name to watch out for. Set in the past, probably the Victorian era, the prologue introduces a sinister toymaker who has devised a way of using animals' hearts to bring his toys to life. As the main story opens, Mathias, a conjuror's boy is mystified when, on his deathbed, his grandfather hands him a tiny piece of screwed up paper. For some reason this paper is wanted by the sinister Dr Lieter who uses his henchman Valter to try and obtain it. Valter is a terrifying character and the author builds a delicious sense of paralysing fear every time he appears.
Mathias is befriended by Katta who tries to protect him. The two children meet the mysterious Koenig who rescues them from Valter's clutches, but only on condition that Mathias and Katta help him discover the mystery of the scrappy piece of paper.
De Quidt explores the dark side of the human condition - cunning, greed, jealousy and revenge are all part of his elaborate plot. Katta is a particularly dark character, hell bent on revenge against a boy whose random attack caused her to develop epilepsy. Unlike most children's books, de Quidt follows through that desire for revenge, describing in gruesome detail precisely how Katta exacts it. I admire de Quidt for being more daring than most in his exploration of maliciousness and retribution.
The first two thirds of the book would be suitable for able top juniors, but this is a gothic tale of nightmarish proportions, and the harrowing ending took even me by surprise. The power of de Quidt's writing is both his strength and part of the problem - his descriptions of Katta - her heart cut out and placed inside a doll to bring it to life are profoundly disturbing, and make this a novel unsuitable for a younger or more sensitive readership.
A fantastic novel, but be careful who you recommend it to. If you can get them past the cover, both boys and girls of twelve plus will lap this up, but it's not for those of a sensitive disposition.
Claire Larson

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