The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale | Book Review

The Toymakers book cover

Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium opens with the first frost of every winter to provide the city’s children with the most magical of toys. From windup, patchwork animals that seem to truly live, to little wooden soldiers who can fight battles like real men, the Emporium offers an enchanting array of toys that fill children and adults alike with wonder. Cathy Wray arrives aged 16, pregnant and homeless, in search of work and board, and there she remains to become a permanent part of the Emporium family. But unending rivalry between Papa Jack’s sons, Kaspar and Emil, pose a threat to the future of the Emporium.

This is one of those books that is so richly imagined that you quickly feel like you’re a part of the magical Emporium world. The story spans from 1917 to 1953, and we see the protagonists grow up and grow old during this time, through the wonderful glory years of the toyshop and through the horrifying impact of the Second World War.

I quickly grew attached to all of them. Cathy begins as a meek, frightened young girl and grows into a confident, assured woman. Kaspar evolves from charming teen into brave soldier and then a man broken by war. Emil is neurotic from start to end, unendingly frustrating and yet endearingly eager to succeed. And Papa Jack, the man who started it all, is a warm yet mysterious soul who has turned a harrowing past into a magical future for his family.

During the opening chapters of The Toymakers, I was expecting it to be a light and sweet literary fairytale, along the lines of The Night Circus. However, when the war comes along and Kaspar is shipped off to fight, it transforms into something much darker and more heartbreaking. The war and its aftermath adds a great deal of depth to the story and makes for truly compelling reading as we discover all the complex ways in which lives are impacted by battle, not just for those who serve on the front line, but their families, too.

Things become progressively more sinister after Kaspar goes to war. His rivalry with his brother Emil deepens, and the entire future existence of the Emporium is at stake. There are some serious twists and turns and the ending was utterly perfect – not at all what I expected. It’s a happy ending and yet a horrifying one; it left me feeling all of the feelings and desperately sad that the story was over.

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