Tucked away down a side street in Edwardian London is the most wonderful toy shop imaginable. Papa Jack’s Emporium sells patchwork dogs that are as loyal as the real thing, paper trees that really put down roots, and intricately painted toy soldiers who march off to war with one another.
But when a real war begins in 1914, the magic of the toyshop fails. Because while this novel starts out as a comforting fantasy, it becomes something much darker. Spanning nearly five decades, The Toymakers tells the story of a pregnant teenage runaway who finds refuge in the Emporium and stays to witness its destruction. It’s a story of sibling rivalry, of cruelty and racism, and, inevitably, the horrors of war.
Like the enchanted Emporium itself, the novel is bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. And while it might look appealing to kids, in its depths it’s much too scary for unaccompanied children. There are moments of shuddering horror, scenes of heartbreaking tragedy – and more than a little beauty.
Imagination, in this book, is its own kind of power; creativity and joy make magic, while resentment and jealousy lead only to despair. Papa Jack built a business on the idea that all adults were once children, and if everyone could get back in touch with their inner child, the world would be a better place. It’s a persuasive argument, and author Robert Dinsdale’s carefully crafted sentences work spells of their own. For all the darkness, there’s optimism here, too, and an irresistible faith in the enduring power of love.
Read this book, and you’ll never again be able to walk past a toy shop without succumbing to the temptation to head inside to relive the wonder of childhood again, even just for a moment.