The Toymaker, by Jeremy de Quidt

The Toymaker, by Jeremy de Quidt (Random House 2010)

There are a number of books and movies, many of them very good indeed, that I wish I hadn't read. Bits of Joan Aiken's horror stories, for instance, are in my mind to stay, appearing in vivid detail at odd intervals. As I get older, I seem to be getting less sensitive...but I am still not at all sure that I was quite old enough for The Toymaker. And I'm really really glad I didn't read it when I was little. Because the titular toymaker makes automatons come to life by wiring their clockwork to living hearts. Sparrow hearts, to start with...they're easy to come by.

And that's where the book begins. The focus, however, soon shifts to Mathias, an orphan enduring the uncertain care of his grandfather, the magician of a second-rate carnival. The grandfather has been hiding a deadly secret for years; when one night he suddenly dies, Mathias finds that an extraordinarily villainous doctor and his even more alarmingly villainous henchmen are quite prepared to use any heinous technique they can think of (and they can think of many) to find that secret...and Mathias is their target. In his mad scramble to escape, Mathias finds surprising allies--a young kitchen girl, Katta, with her own tangled past; Koenig, a pistol wielding smuggler who thinks a secret that's worth killing for might well be worth trying to find himself; and Stefan, a sullen young charcoal burner whose past is entwined with Katta's....

Through the snowy, wolf-filled woods Mathias and his companions hurry, pursued all the while by something worse than any wolf. They do not know not what they will find or where it lies....until they get there, and they discover a horrible truth.

And something utterly awful happens, that upset me lots, and then...the book ends.

If you like somewhat gothic-y horror, where likable children (Katta and Mathias) are victims of circumstances beyond their control (circumstances as unclear to them as they are to the reader), if you like desperate races between good guys and bad guys, and if you do not mind lots of violence (both of a generic and of an extraordinarily horrific kind), you will like this book. It is tightly plotted, well-written, original, atmospheric--all that sort of good stuff.

If you don't, you still might, like me, find yourself reading, all anxious to find out if they escape alive....or not. And then kind of wishing you hadn't read the ending...
It was shortlisted for the 2010 Waterstone’s Childrens prize, and it's ostensibly for children 9-12. But the amount of violence is great enough that I'd be cautious of giving it to an empathetic, easily-bothered child. Fortunately, the US cover shown above is disturbing enough that it should help self-select its audience. The UK paperback cover, at right, is creepy, but more appealing, I think...

1 comment:

  1. The cover alone is enough to creep me out. But I don't like to judge books solely on that. Your synopsis creeped me out more though. I think I will be skipping this one unless for some strange reason one of my kids wants to read it.


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