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September 9, 2019

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal ~ a Review

by MK French

As the Great Exhibition is built in 1850's London, Iris hopes to escape working in a doll shop and become a painter as she had always dreamed. Becoming the model for Louis Frost opens her world to all kinds of opportunities. The chance encounter with Silas, a curiosity collector that articulated skeletons or butterflies for the morbid tastes of artists and the gentry, is a forgotten moment for Iris. For Silas, it was a moment that sparked an obsession that would never relent.

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August 2019; Atria; 978-1982106768
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); Gothic
The Doll Factory is a fascinating look at the Victorian era from the viewpoint of the lower classes, with the aspirations to elevate into a higher class frustratingly difficult and looked down upon at the same time. Iris, a twin that had previously been "the ugly one" because of her malformed collarbone, she had no hope to work on her art without throwing out those aspirations entirely. This puts her at odds with her twin sister and parents, and even the working class looks down on her as little better than a prostitute. Poor children are left to do little more than beg, steal, prostitute themselves or deal with dead bodies to make their living penny by penny. And the darker, obsessive impulses are just as dismissed then as they are now. It's an internal issue, after all, and those in polite society tend to ignore that creeping feeling in their gut that tells them danger is close.

I loved Iris and her story. Though she had little finances and opportunities, it didn't stop her from dreaming and trying her best to practice on her own. She still has scruples and a strong sense of herself, enough that she leaves everything she knows for a chance at a future happiness, then is willing to leave that in order to maintain her dignity and pride. This inner strength carries her through to the very end, especially as Silas circles closer and closer, a stalker long before the word was ever popularized. The look inside his mind is macabre and fascinating, like looking at a train wreck. I know nothing good will ever come of it, and his view of the world has twisted so that inconsequential things take on monumental importance. He assumes a closer relationship to Iris than he actually has, and his view of things deteriorates further.

Though it starts off relatively slowly, getting to know Iris and her twin Rose, Silas, the urchins and the artists, it's still compelling reading. I was drawn into it long before Iris and Silas meet, and before Silas makes a desperate attempt to talk to her at the gallery. Without spoiling the ending, definitely read the final review carefully. This novel is well put together, and the ending fits in such a way that is satisfying.

Buy The Doll Factory at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

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