Some books are weird, and some books are disturbing, but I have never yet read one either as weird or as disturbing in this particular way. The writing is eerie, the characters are morally ambiguous, and the finale is unusual, but what is most perplexing is the demographic of this title – The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt is a children’s book. It’s a good one too, with a similar, if less sympathetic, texture to Gaiman’s Coraline. Except where Gaiman’s work follows are more fantastical and adventurous path, Quidt takes his plot down a much more realistic and twisted route.
The book has no hero, and arguably, only one antagonist. Mathias begins a string of surreal events by stealing a piece of paper from his dead grandfather, and meets several interesting personalities along the way, varying from the downright immoral, to those who intentions are as opaque as a concrete door. This adds an edge to the storyline that is rare in most fiction let alone children’s fiction, because characters act on reasoning the audience is often unaware of. For instance, Koenig, whose identity and background are masked through most of the story, has intentions which are up for interpretation, and a formidable force of fear is brought to a new light at the introduction of another. Although it’s never overtly stated, the emotional responses of the characters are built realistically on the foundations of their own personal pasts and tribulations, which is exactly how it should be. Unfortunately, character dialogue is scarce, and the interplay between there different characteristics is sorely lacking as a result.
Fast paced and interlocking events keep the story focused. A piece of paper leads to a man, who leads to a clue and so on and so forth, until the pain of not knowing the devices at work is almost unbearable. However, de Quidt leaves many strands ignored, and hanging, and many random interludes don’t catch-up with the rest of the story. Margerite, for example, whose introduction into the story is deemed as significant, never gets an explanation. And considering the book is titled The Toymaker there isn’t a lot of him either. If some of the chaff had been removed, the centre could have been on the aspects which appear more interesting – the knife for example, and the functioning of the dolls, but these things linger in the background with little else to do. I’m not sure if there will be a sequel, but if so I hope de Quidt reveals more of his Toymaker and the products of his making.
As previously stated, the fact that the book is marketed to children is slightly unnerving. Not only are the descriptions of pain and anguish very well-written to the point where I couldn’t bare to read on at moments, but pictures have been provided to ensure maximum comprehension is taken. There are torture scenes that made my skin-crawl, and horrifically realistic seizures. People are shot, broken and cut in every chapter. While the style of the text is most definitely perfect for pre-teens the content feels like something from a teen horror flick.
Atmosphere is perfectly maintained. As a reader I felt even I was fending for myself in the nightmarish world de Quidt elaborates around his destitute bunch, and I felt alone as I journeyed with them fearing inevitable betrayal, or capture, or worse. The experience of reading left a bleak feeling in my head. The conclusion is haunting, but unsatisfactory, and I expect the author either left a means with which to continue or he wanted the ending to be open for interpretation. The epilogue required a read over to fully understand what had transpired; it’s clever, but considering how far I had come to understand the events detailed, I was disappointed. There is so much more that could be done with the concepts created.
Great characters, great concepts, great atmosphere, and definitely a creepy tale, mystery and mild-horror lovers will enjoy.