The Toymaker

by
Jeremy de Quidt

illustrated by
Gary Blythe

David Fickling Books, August 2010, 358 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-385-75180-3

Genre: Young Reader

Subgenre: Dark Fiction
Reviewed: 5/3/2010

Reviewed by: Conan Tigard

Book Cover

Excerpt

In a tunnel . . .

Katta and Mathias had to hide.

Valter came round the bend. In the lamplight he could see the stacked boxes, the barrels and the oilcloth, and he knew at once that was where they were. He stopped. He couldn't see them, but he didn't have to. He could breathe them in amongst the brandy and barrels, the smell of of boy and the smell of girl, close by. He cocked his head a little to one side and listened. He could even hear the quick sound of their hearts beating. No one had ever managed to hide from Valter.

Through the narrowest crack between a pile of barrels, Katta watched the dwarf. He stood with his back to her, holding the lamp up as he searched amongst the boxes on the other side of the tunnel. She ducked down just before he turned and the light swept past the place where they hid. She heard him moving things about and held her breath. But he didn't find them. He walked on. She could hear the soft sound his coachman's boots made on the earth floor as he went by. The light of the lamp grew fainter and fainter as he moved away. Then it was dark again. She let her breath go in a long, quiet whisper of relief. But now he was between them and their way out. Maybe, she thought, he would reach then end and come back above ground through the wood. Either way they were safe for the moment. They would just have to wait a bit longer. She settled back, and it was at this moment that Valter's hand came slowly out of the dark and gripped her hair.

She screamed.

The dwarf had crept silently back in the darkness, the lamp and knife wrapped beneath his thick coat. Now he had Katta by her long hair, he drew the lamp out again so that he could look at her face as he pulled her from between the barrels. The boy was on the ground behind her. He hadn't moved even when she screamed, but he was looking up at Valter with wide-eyed terror.

This was going to be a good game.

Valter flung Katta way -- it was the boy he wanted first; he could play with her later. She crashed hard into the heavy boxes, all the breath knocked from her. The boxes swayed and fell on her. Pulling the knife from his coat, the dwarf reached down and, in one quick movement, passed it straight through Mathias's shoulder.

"Where is it?" he said.

He pushed the knife through again. There was nowhere for Mathias to go. The dwarf dragged him out over the top of the barrels, threw him roughly to the ground, then sat astride him with the knife sideways between his teeth and his thumbs pressed hard into Mathias's eyes.

"Where is it?"

Katta's head was ringing. She could see the dwarf on Mathias. She looked about for something she could use to hit him with. There was only the oil lamp. The dwarf had put it down on the ground beside him. She got unsteadily to her feet, picked it up and swung it as hard as she could. It hit Valter on the back of the head with a dull crack. The glass shattered, and instantly he was on fire. The oil from the lamp was thick in his hair; it soaked into his coat. He leaped up wildly, beating at the flamed with his hands, but he was like a burning torch. The more he beat at them, the more the flames caught hold, until he was all fire. Screaming, he blundered blindly into the walls. The wooden struts that held the roof cracked and gave way where he it them. Soil began to spill from above, first in small amounts, then in bucketfuls. Katta could see what was going to happen. The roof was going to give way. She caught hold of Mathias and began to drag him away. The flames from the burning dwarf lit up the whole tunnel.

Valter was still screaming as the roof fell.

 

Synopsis

Lutsmann, and his painted wife, Anna-Marie, operate a run-down traveling sideshow called Lutsmann's Traveling Circus. It is not a very famous circus and only draws small crowds in the towns they visit. One of the performers, Gustav, and old man, is a conjuror. Gustav's grandson, Mathias, helps the performers in the circus during the shows. His grandfather has always told him that he knows a secret, and one day, when he collapses on stage after seeing a man with a silver-topped cane in the audience.

Gustav is taken to a stable and lain down on the dirty straw. Gustav awakens and has Mathias bring him his coat. He retrieves a piece of paper and pops it in his mouth trying to chew it up, but dies before he can finish. Mathias retreives the piece of a paper out of Gustav's mouth and secrets it away in his pocket.

Lutsmann and Anna-Marie, being rather poor and greedy, know that Gustav had a secret and they believe it to be something that will make them rich. Anna-Marie brings Mathias back to her cart and starts to interrogate him. She is getting ready to torture Mathias when the man with the silver-topped cane shows up and takes Mathias away in his coach.

Mathias, whose head is spinning, doesn't know what to think. This man, Dr. Leiter, is looking for something and Mathias figures that he wants the piece of paper that he has in his pocket. Mathias is determined that he will never give it to Dr. Leiter. The coach is driven by a small man, a dwarf, with a twisted face. When wolves attack the coach, the dwarf fights them all off with only his hands . . . and wins. His name is Valter, and he scares Mathias to death.

When they stop for the night at an inn, Mathais meets a young girl who works there named Katta. Katta is interested in Mathias and who he is. Up in the room, Dr. Leiter takes a small doll out of a box who seems to be alive and places her on the desk in the room. He begins asking Mathias questions, and every time Mathias lies, the doll, Marguerite, touches the red card. Dr. Lieter knows that Mathias is lying to him when this happens. Just as Valter is hanging him out the second story window by his neck, Katta entered the room and Valter drops Mathias to the ground below, breaking some of his ribs. Katta runs down the stairs and helps Mathias escape into the forest.

They stumble across a band of Burners who begins trying to get Mathias healed. Koenig, a man in his early twenties, is interested as to why the children are on the run. Katta, who had once been hit in the head by a rock thrown by a Burner boy, hates the Burners. Koenig finds out that Dr. Leiter, who lives in the port town of Felissehaven, has put out word that he is searching for the two children. Koenig is determined to find out why.

Koenig decides to travel to Felissehaven and take both Katta and Mathias with him. Another Burner boy, Stefen, joins them on their trek. The moment Katta sees Stefan she knows that this is the boy that hit her with the rock, which dented her skull and tore her skin and hair  away leaving bone exposed. This is why she is forced to wear a lather cap, and the dent causes he to have seizures. She hates him. She has dreamed of killing him ever since the rock smashed into her head. But now she has a new plan. She steals Stefan's knife and is determined that she will slice his eyes and blind him when they are alone sometime.

Little do they know that Valter has been tracking the kids since they left the inn. He is determined to return them to Dr. Lieter and nobody is going to stand in his way.

The Toymaker is a dark fiction book written by Jeremy de Quidt and illustrated by Gary Blythe. This book is intended for young readers ages 8 and older.

 

Review

The Toymaker is a very dark piece of fiction. Sure, I have read some of the books in A Series of Unfortunate Events, and those books are dark and gloomy too, but they also have a sense of silliness to them that make them a little light-hearted and fun to read. It is not so with this book. Let's take a look at some of the things that make this book so dark.

The Toymaker is a man who really isn't in the story much. He appears in the Prologue and you learn how he was able to make really beautiful dolls. But he wanted more out of them and performed many experiments to make them live. He finally perfected cutting the heart out of a living bird and hooking it up to one of his dolls while it was still beating to make the doll come alive. These living dolls turn out to be quite evil, like Marguerite. The Toymaker appears later in the story, but since I don't want to give too much away, I really cannot discuss him anymore.

Every adult in this book is either greedy, mean or evil. The only two good people in this story are Mathias and Katta, and Mathias is injured throughout the entire book while Katta is firmly set on blinding the boy that caused her to have seizures. Now that I think about it, maybe Mathias is the only good person in this story. Katta is just set on revenge, rather than forgiveness.

There is quite a bit of killing in this story. Not everyone dies, but almost everyone. Is this really a story that eight year olds should be reading? I wouldn't think so. This book should definitely be aimed at an older audience, let's say like 12 and older. Eight year olds don't need to read such a dark and depressing story as The Toymaker.

Now, for the good parts. The story is well-written. I did enjoy reading it, but kept waiting for something good to happen to these kids. I waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. I was not so lucky, or maybe I should say that Mathias and Katta were not so lucky. The story kept me involved, but I was left feeling bad for all the rotten things that happened to the main characters. I cannot go into too much detail because that would reveal too much about the story. I just wish the book could have been a little lighter. There wasn't much fun to be had while reading this book, which is something that young reader really look for in a story. I felt like I should be wearing all black while I read this story and should only be listening to Goth Rock. Bring on the darkness.

The ten or so images by Gary Blythe are beautifully drawn. I do wish that the cover would have been drawn by the same artist as the images in the book.

Overall, The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt is a decent story that should have been a lot lighter. It is pretty heavy stuff for a kid in second or third grade to read. I would not recommend this book for young readers that young. This is a middle school book, not an elementary school book. If there is another book, I just hope the next book is a lot lighter.

I rated this book a 6 out of 10.

This site was created and is maintained by Conan Tigard
2010