I found The Dollmaker to be a very disjointed and strange read. The core story is Dollmaker Andrew’s journey to see his pen friend Bramber who lives in an odd institution in Bodmin Moor. I must admit I didn’t find this story very interesting; it was mainly flashbacks on Andrew’s life mixed with letters from Bramber and dull details about his journey. I found Andrew to be very forgettable to say he is the main character – I had forgotten his name and even whether he was male or female after a couple of the short stories had gone by. He’s also a ‘dwarf’ (the book’s terminology) but this information is thrown at us as a bit of an afterthought to say it’s one of the main themes of the book.
On Andrew’s journey he brings a book of fairy tales by Ewa Chaplin and these are inserted into the text in what felt like a very random fashion. A few of the earlier stories such as the one starring Anders Tessmond were great but a few of the later ones I struggled with – it almost felt like the author ran out of ideas. All of the stories had the same unfortunate layout – they were very slow to start and then they’d be a decision or twist which would ramp up my interest and then they’d fizzle out completely or just stop with you never feeling like you got a good conclusion from them. You’d then be frustratingly hurled back into the dull core storyline caring even less about the characters in front of you.
The short stories were supposed to be closely mirroring Andrew and Brambers lives and backstories but they it was so close that it felt unrealistic within the narrative. Rather than the theme of dolls running through the text it felt like dwarves and romance were actually the key themes and the author had just been a bit nervous to name it as such. I also started to lose track as to what I’d read in the stories and what was pointless backstory from our main characters lives. As the relationships between the short stories and the main story was so close I was expecting a major twist or reveal at the end of the book that would tie it all together – something to make me want to re-read all of the stories again to really appreciate what had been happening. I even had a couple of really nice twist ideas in my head, all of which would be much better than what we got which was very disappointing – just like the short stories, it fizzled out to nothing. The whole book felt very much like a good first draft with some nice ideas that should have been taken further, rather than a published finished product.
I don’t normally mention formatting in ARC reviews – I totally understand that fonts may not be right or paragraph breaks might be in odd places as novels are imported to a different format. That said, I have never read an ARC where sentences are left unfinished before – I have several examples of this in The Dollmaker which definitely need sorting before publication!
Overall I found The Dollmaker to be a dull and frustrating read that has a lot of potential but goes nowhere with it. Thank you to NetGalley & Quercus Books – riverrun for a copy of the ARC in exchange for an honest review.