Wednesday 25 January 2023

The Toymakers, Robert Dinsdale

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and buy I will receive a percentage commission at no extra cost to you.

The Toymakers opens with a young Cathy Wray pregnant and on the cusp of being forced to give up her baby when it arrives. Instead, she runs away to London and Papa Jack’s Emporium where she will find a job and a home. The Emporium is a magical place full of toys beyond the imagination. It opens with the first frost of the winter and closes with the appearance of snowdrops. What Cathy will do when it closes at the end of the season she doesn’t quite know, but something tells her she’ll be taken care of.

Papa Jack's sons, Emil and Kaspar, are both following in their father’s footsteps and spend their time creating new wonders for customers to enjoy. Emil’s toy soldiers are reliable sellers but he is unsatisfied, struggling to fashion the magic that Kaspar and Papa Jack are able to conjure. Despite Cathy being the constant throughout, it is really the relationship between Emil and Kaspar which is the main focus of the novel. They both fall for Cathy and predictably it is Kaspar she chooses, condemning Emil to a lifetime of watching his brother live the life he wants. The sibling rivalry never ceases, even when, or perhaps especially when, Kaspar leaves to fight in the First World War.

The war is described from a distance, through Kaspar’s letters which hide the reality of what he is experiencing. When he returns however, he is broken. It feels sensitively done, both the impact on those who went to fight, and those who stayed behind. The difficulty for Cathy and her daughter Martha, waiting for word from him, and the sense of betrayal when she realises he’s kept so much from her. The way their relationship is changed is thoughtfully written - their reunion does not heal the horrors of war but Cathy is loyal and patient as the years pass and her once animated husband remains a cold shell of his former self.

Papa Jack has also experienced unimaginable suffering, but through it learnt the power of toys to transport people of any age back to the innocence of childhood. The emporium he creates is a wonderland that visitors hold in their heart well into adulthood. It is richly imagined and all too easy to believe in the patchwork animals with more than a little life in them, the paper forest, and the cloud castle. Reading it allows a slice of magic out into the world. It is not all wonder and delight however, the realities of the outside world seep in, the conflicting brothers strain an already difficult financial time, and the walls of the Emporium are not immune to the bombs of the Blitz.

This is a fantastical book with a heavy dose of reality. Jealousy, discrimination, and financial ruin are all present. There is deep familial love running through but it is up against a barrage of difficulty. A fun read that can at times feel a little aimless, but at others will have you frantically turning the pages to find out what happens next.


  1. This sounds like the sort of book that I would really love! I really enjoy reading material that has some hard themes such as financial ruin x

  2. This sounds like a really interesting book. I like books that keep you interested, but also look at relationships or important topics. Thank you for sharing x

  3. This sounds like a great book and the cover is absolutely stunning! That would draw me in instantly x

    1. It's a gorgeous cover isn't it?! Really makes you feel like you'll be stepping into something special.

  4. This seem a lovely book and love the story. Its inspiring and the character names are cool.

  5. Didn't know about this book, thanks for sharing!