It doesn’t matter how young or old we are – isn’t there always something magical about a toyshop? Well, there’s never been a toyshop as magical as Papa Jack’s Emporium, a wonderfully enchanted establishment that sits in a quiet mews in the heart of London’s Mayfair and is open only from the night of the first frost to the flowering of the first snowdrop.
Papa Jack runs the Emporium with his two young sons, Kaspar and Emil. Together they create marvellous toys that defy imagination – patchwork animals that seem to be alive, cloud castles and instant trees, model soldiers that actually fight their own battles… although it seems small on the outside, the Emporium is a cavernous place with many shelves and many floors and the latest person to enter here, a young runaway called Cathy Wray, is going to change it forever. When Cathy takes a job at the Emporium she becomes the object of affection for both Papa Jack’s sons, but when the First World War rages and Kaspar is called to the battlefield, not even the old man’s magic can hold off the horrors of the outside or protect the Emporium’s stock of childhood innocence.
Like all the best magical-realism, The Toymakers walks that fine line between touching the readers heart with some glorious Hans Christian Andersen-like fantasy and then breaking the readers heart whenever reality encroaches and the fantasy is threatened. It’s a story that seems tailor-made for Christmas but avoids mawkish sentimentality, and although it begins like a celebration of everything that’s good about the festive season it does take some decidedly Dickensian turns into the darkness as we follow the fates of Cathy and Papa Jack etc. from pre-WW1 and into the decades that follow. In fact, the novel’s old fashioned-ness is a major part of its charm. Robert Dinsdale’s storytelling is terrific and his narrative frequently takes turns we would never have expected, even if the midpoint shift in tone is a little jarring and the conclusion is a bit heavy on the metaphor. Still, that’s a small criticism for an unashamedly feel-good Christmas story that will put a smile (and maybe even a tear in the eye) on even the most jaded reader’s face.
THE TOYMAKERS / AUTHOR: ROBERT DINSDALE / PUBLISHER: DEL REY / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 8TH