Cover Image: The Doll Factory

The Doll Factory

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Member Reviews

Thank you to the publisher and Net Galley for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I read this book a few months ago with some other bloggers, and I am incredibly grateful for them and our weekly discussions because I don’t think I would have finished this book without them.

I went into this book not remembering what it was about, but I was expecting some nice Historical Fiction with lots of art thrown in. What I got instead was sections with some nice Historical Fiction and art and other sections that were ripped out of an episode of Criminal Minds.

I want to start off by talking about the characters. I have mixed feelings about Iris. At some moments, I loved her, and I was in awe of her independence and determination. At other points, I wanted to scream because she was making some awful decisions. I liked Louis, and though he had his frustrating moments, I thought he was a fairly consistent character. Albie was an absolute sweetheart, and I was rooting for him throughout the book. Silas is by far one of the most repulsive and horrendous characters I have ever encountered, and as far as I’m concerned, he has no redeeming qualities. The best character in this book is Guinevere, she is a wombat, and she is delightful.

As far as the plot goes, I loved some parts of the story and hated other parts. I loved the parts told from Iris’s perspective that focused on art, Louis, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. I loved reading the scenes where Iris and Louis were painting and watching Iris improve as an artist. I don’t know very much about art, but parts of this book made me want to look into the Pre-Raphaelite movement. I also enjoyed reading a book set in London during the 1850s because this is a period I’m not very familiar with. 

I absolutely hated the parts told from Silas’s perspective. He is such a creepy and unlikable character, and his parts made me want to stop reading the book. I generally find taxidermy to be creepy, but reading about it from his perspective, turned me off completely. There were far too many dead animals in his section, and it made me uncomfortable. His obsession with Iris was something pulled out of an episode of Criminal Minds, and I’m surprised that I didn’t give up on this book.

Another thing that bothered me about this book was the number of characters thrown in just to create conflict or move the story along. It was a lot to keep track of at times, especially because some characters appeared for a few pages and then wouldn’t show up again until 100 pages later.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this book. If the parts with Silas were removed, I’d probably give it 4 or 4.5 stars because the art aspect was wonderful. However, Silas plays a huge role in this book, and his creepiness was too much for me. I also found the ending to be underwhelming, and it made me want to throw my Kindle across the room.
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So atmospheric and creepy! Really got under my skin, but in a good way.
I recommend this book to the right audience- it will not be for everyone. If you like dark historical fiction that makes you uncomfortable and will keep you up at night, than this is the book for you.
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One of my favorite time periods is the Victorian era and I love books that take place during that time especially if they are accurate in their depiction. The Doll Factory delivers this and more in so many ways. It is so descriptive in framing the daily life of people including the broad scope of society and its ills, smells and views that I felt like I had gone on a trip back in time. It is a poignant snapshot of middle class and lower class society including artists, shop owners and workers and those less fortunate.
The story centers on Iris who works in a doll shop painstakingly painting dolls but who dreams of being a painter in her own right. Iris is given the opportuntiy to become a model for artist Louis Frost. Although the position is considered provocative and little better than a prostitute, Iris decides to risk her reputation so she can learn to paint. She does not realize that she is being watched by another person who is fascinated by her imperfections. Silas is a taxidermist who becomes obsessed by Iris and is determined to have her at any cost.
Highly recommended.
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For me this was a little slow to start but soon things began to pick up as I learned the characters, their nuances, hopes, dreams, and obsessions. Although this book never completely knocked me off my feet (or reading chair) I enjoyed the Gothic feel and the downward spiral of obsession. Then there is the ending..hmmm...was I the only one thinking "what happens next?" quickly followed by "what just happened?" I found the ending to be nothing short of abrupt. The ending had me wanting more but also helped me to feel what most of the characters in this book were feeling, most wanted more - more teaching, more love, a better life, a better way to survive, to be a family, to have what one covets most. The setting was fabulous and the characters intense, with a dark, gloomy atmospheric vibe throughout.
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2019: Simon & Schuster Canada/Atria/Emily Bestler Books

The Doll Factory is one of those novels that you either love and appreciate, or it just does not work for you. The story is one that will drag you into it's world, or one that you just can't get into. Or so, that is my experience and what I have read from other reviews. It is a gritty descriptive historical fiction set in 1850s London. It has a dark tone that lends to the suspense of the mystery. It reminds me of the show Penny Dreadful. I was hooked with this haunted story, and at times a bit disturbed. It is a hard one to describe, and one you just have to try and see what it evokes in you.

***I received a complimentary copy of this ebook from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.***
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Thank you Netgalley, Simon and Schuster Canada and Elizabeth Macneal for free e-Arc in return of my honest review. 

Honestly, I had my ups and downs with a book. The Doll House is a story of a young woman, Iris, in Victorian England who was supposed to spend all her life paining doll faces and creating dolls attire in order to support her family. Iris works alongside her twin, Rose, who suffered chicken pox in 16 and was left with horrible scars, hence lost her beauty. The most prominent fate for a young woman back then was to find a husband. Rose due scarring lost all hopes, and Iris had other dreams than just be a wife. Iris met a man who hires her to model and gives her paining classes. Iris as an artist finds herself fulfilled. 

There is also another side-line story/mystery about a taxidermist who is  obsessed with Iris and tried to abduct her. 

Overall, The Doll House is pretty interesting and in parts quite a page turner,  however, sometimes the narrative seems too slow with no conclusions and therefore, I felt lost. On the other hand, I believe characters were splendidly written, especially second roles. For instance, Rose was lovely described and I felt her jealousy and bitterness through pages. I also think that the atmosphere was beautifully created. Dark Victorian London with dark alleys and outside market noise were very believable. 

I wish I enjoyed The Doll House more.
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Twins, the Whittle sisters are twenty-one years old and working in a doll factory when we first meet them. They are in the employ of a drug-addled despot named Mrs. Salter. They work grueling hours and live in a damp basement room under the shop. Rose sews the wardrobes of the dolls, while Iris paints the delicate features of their faces. The sisters were beautiful but are both flawed. Rose carries the horrible physical scars of smallpox, while our protagonist, Iris, has a deformed collar bone.

It is that deformity that causes Silas to become obsessed with her. Silas Reed is a taxidermist and covets any physical deformity or manifestation that would make his ‘art’ unique. Silas, already mad, has been driven even more insane by his abject loneliness and his unrequited love for Iris Whittle.

It is the year of the Great Exhibition in London. The ‘Crystal Palace’ has been built especially to house and display over one hundred thousand exhibits from many fields of study.

In a poor area of London, lives the diminutive, toothless, pickpocket Albie. Remember, this story is set during the time of Charles Dickens, so the reader immediately thinks to compare him to Oliver Twist. Albie lives in a squalid room beneath a brothel with his sister, a prostitute. At only seven years of age, he has seen it all. When his sister ‘entertains’ customers on the bed, Albie lies under the bed and holds her hand. Heartbreaking stuff!

Our protagonist, Iris Whittle, longs to be free. Free of the drudgery of working in the doll factory, free of the tyrannical Mrs. Salter, free of her twin sister who has been bitter towards her ever since she contracted small pox. Rose is jealous of Iris’s beauty. She is also envious of Iris’s artistic talent.

It is young Albie who introduces the artist Louis Frost to the lovely Iris. When she is tempted by him to come and work as his muse, his model, she leaves her sister Rose – and her reputation – behind her. In exchange, Louis will teach her how to paint…

Louis is a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Iris has exchanged her reputation, her sister’s regard, and any kind of relationship with her parents – for her freedom.

Freedom to paint. Freedom to love…


The more I read historical fiction, the more I’m convinced that the phrase “the good ol’ days” is a misnomer. This novel is set in the mid nineteenth century and back then, for the average person, times were far from good.

Another thing I appreciate about historical fiction is that I always learn something from it, no matter how much fictional license an author takes, there are always elements of truth within. Some books, like this debut by Elizabeth Macneal, is well researched with loads of factual information thinly disguised. The character of Iris Whittle was inspired by the true life female artist of the time, Lizzie Siddall.

This brilliant cast of characters were all well wrought. The tragic Whittle sisters, the evil Mrs. Salter, the twisted, lonely, Silas, the artist Louis Frost, even the pet wombat Guinivere, all were easily imagined by the reader. The character that most stole my heart was the impish pickpocket, Albie.

The historical time period has been described vividly. The social mores of the time, the squalor of the poor areas of London, the majesty of the Great Exhibition, the colours of the oil paintings, are all brought to fruition by the author’s excellent description.

The cover of this novel is a work of art in and of itself. Under the bell jar are renditions of so many of the plot’s contents. Iris herself, Silas’s stuffed mice, butterflies, and even the Crystal Palace itself!

This is a fiction debut that is sure to enchant lovers of historical fiction. In addition, the reader gets an intense and very dark story of obsession. With a sinister and gothic atmosphere, this novel is highly recommended!

4.5 stars rounded up
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This was a gripping story, though I felt it was slow and a very long build, I wanted to keep reading it because I enjoyed Iris so much. She was a great character and I'm very glad how the story ended.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy. All opinions expressed are my own. 

The Doll Factory 
By: Elizabeth Macneal

*REVIEW*  🌟🌟🌟🌟
When I saw the cover of The Doll Factory, I immediately thought of The Bell Jar. It's just an odd thought I had because of the cover art. I'm not going to discuss the plot, you just have to read it, rather I'm interested in the emotional impact. This story is set in 19th century London, a time period I'm very glad I wasn't born into. Life was an atrocity for women and the poor, full of grime, sub human living conditions and crushing hopelessness. The dream of escape was a diamond dangling always and forever out of reach. This story chronicles the daily struggles of these people, particularly women and artists. 
In addition, the art world of the time period is accessed. All of this has obviously been greatly researched because the author renders the time and place in a vivid picture. The characters here are simply trying to survive through misfortune and maybe a bit of good fortune. It's a dark story, even though at first it might not seem that way. The obsessive nature and madness of one in particular is sharp, sinister and menacing. If you juxtapose this against another who is harmless, basic and good hearted in the face of adversity, what might happen? Which 
characteristic prevails-madness or goodness? It's a story with an underlying subtlety of dark versus light. I felt like the atmosphere had a very macabre and abysmal presence building to the end. We all know that people are capable of really anything. It's thought provoking and chilling. Honestly, it becomes eerily scary the further you read and stays with you. The Doll Factory is definitely a memorable read!
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First things first, I received a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.
Now that this is out of the way, let's get to it.
This book was a surprise, I didn't expect it to be so dark. 
Silas is sooo creepy like that stalker game is very strong ....
  So this was a very dark and intriguing tale about a young woman, her sister, an artist and a stalker. The main and most interesting part of the story is how the era in which Iris desires to become an artist. I loved how her passion came into play and how while the story was becoming darker and darker, it didn't take all the place in the novel. 
I loved the romance and how art was used in the story. 
Ultimately I really enjoyed my read and the writing style.   
The only things I would like to give warning to is 1. animal cruelty and 2.stalkers ; which could be triggering to some people.  (which as I am someone who loved animals and had a stalker was triggering to me)
Great book totally recommend !
3.85 stars
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A perfectly hair-raising tale of obsession!

This was one of those books that makes you resent doing anything that requires you to put it down for even a few minutes. Work, dinner, speaking… you know, basically real life stuff. I was completely enthralled with this story!

This Dickensian Gothic starts with poor Iris slaving away in a china doll shop (see dolls, scary already.), alongside her twin sister Rose. Both women possess unique artistic abilities but Iris is the real star, a painter who wants nothing more than the freedom to be an artist. Sadly, she is a prisoner of her own life until fate and circumstance intervene.

Once, Iris has a true taste of freedom, nothing will stop her but there is someone watching her every move. Someone who wants to keep her under glass, preserved like some kind of specimen, and they will stop at nothing to possess her.

Everything about this book gave me goosebumps! It was eerie and dark, with beautiful writing and the most interesting characters. The characters in particular made this book stand out for me because they were just so tragic!

I was a bit surprised when I read some of the reviews circulating, not because readers didn’t like it, but because they didn’t seem to love it as much as I did. Many 4 star reviews, but not as many 5 stars as I would have predicted. At any rate, I loved it and truly feel it was deserving of 5 stars! It’s hard to believe this is the author’s debut. I would never have guessed had I not known ahead of time.

Really the only thing I have left to say about this beautifully gruesome novel, is which cover do you prefer? The original, or the new edition? I love the original pre-publication cover! So stunning!

*Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review!
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London in the 1850s where the story of various characters are played out. Of Iris and her once beautiful sister Rose working in the Doll Factory. But Iris aspires for more, to become an artist. Then she meets the pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost.
Silas, a taxidermist and collector. When he meets Iris he cannot forget her, and becomes obsessed to the point that he must own her.
But what of Albie, the pickpocket, and his sister.
A dark gothic historical fiction tale of Victorian London. A well-written story with its interesting characters.
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I received a complimentary ARC copy of The Doll Factory
by Elizabeth Macneal from NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada in order to read and give an honest review.

” a dark, atmospheric work of gothic historical fiction which chills and thrills right to the very end…”

In this debut novel from Elizabeth Macneal we get a dark, atmospheric work of gothic historical fiction which chills and thrills right to the very end.  Wonderfully written with uniquely written characters and an accurate interpretation of 1850’s London The Doll Factory takes dark unrequited love and obsession to a new level.  

 Our protagonist Iris and her sister, Rose work in a Doll shop for the cruel and intolerant Mrs Salter.  Their life is monotonous to poor Iris who finds painting dolls to be stifling especially when her true desire is to become one of the first respected female artists of the time.  Iris feels it necessary to hide her artwork from the prying eyes of Mrs Salter and her sister Rose.  Rose after being scarred severely by smallpox, becomes jealous and often cruel to her sister after she loses her fiancé due to her looks.  One day through a young street urchin, Albie, Iris meets taxidermist and curiosity shop owner, Silas. At first glance, Silas is besotted with her and his life becomes built around his disturbing obsession with Iris, creating a fantasy about her and their ‘perfect’ future together.  When Iris gets an opportunity to model and be tutored by an up and coming artist, the handsome and debonair Louis Frost, things seem to be turning around for her but Louis is distraught by the news. Louis who a client of Silas, often purchasing taxidermy animals as models for his work has treated Silas poorly, playing cruel pranks on him which Silas will not forget.  Despite being disowned by her sister and parents for choosing a profession not becoming of a lady, Iris decides to quit her job and follow her dreams. When Silas sees how closed she is becoming to Louis his obsession takes a dangerous turn. 

Very dark and disturbing this book might not be for everyone however if you can bet past certain parts it is brilliantly written with well-crafted characters and finishes off with an unexpected but satisfying ending.
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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Set in London 1850, The Doll Factory introduces us to Iris. A young woman who dreams of being a painter. One day she meets a man named Silas. The encounter is brief and within seconds Iris has forgotten about it completely. Silas never forgets her however, and his obsession becomes more dark and consuming.

Iris is asked to model for a local artist Louis Frost, when she accepts her entire life starts to open up to new experiences and possibilities. Things are looking good for her until Silas' obsession becomes too powerful. Things take a scary turn that threatens to challenge Iris in ways she never imagined.

For me, this book was slow starting off. It was just okay. I didn't feel the urge to DNF it but I wasn't drawn into the story right away either. I was about 60% through this book before I found it got really interesting. Once it got my attention though, it never let me go. It took me about 4 days to get through the first half and then just over 24 hours to finish the second. Keeping in mind sleep, a toddler, being a slower reader and everything else  I juggle and that makes pretty good time.

The characters were well done. They all had individual personalities with likes, desires, annoyances and passions. Iris, our main character, is wonderfully done. She has this inner rebel that we get to see behind the curtains early on. Then later on she brings this inner rebel to the surface when she agrees to model for Louis Frost despite her family being quite angry about it. Albie, an orphan friend of Iris who introduces her and Silas initially. We get to watch little Albie grow as a person and he is by far my favorite character. At first I thought of Silas as an outcast and actually felt bad for him. It was wowing to see his true personality develop from a shy outcast from a psychopath. All the characters were great, but those are the ones who I thought were done the best.

Overall, I thought this book was well written. It was a wonderful story to be added into the Historical Fiction genre. If you are someone who can have patience with a slow beginning book to get to a great ending than I definitely recommend this book. If you are someone who needs to be grabbed and pulled in from the beginning than this book probably isn't for you. Good story, good characters, I enjoyed it.
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THE DOLL FACTORY by ELIZABETH MACNEAL is a historical fiction / psychological thriller and I was unable to put it down.  

The author has obviously done an incredible amount of historical research as her descriptions of time, place and even in the minutiae of what daily life was like, she comes across as convincing and authentic. 

The details of art at the time the story takes place is extensive and utterly fascinating. 

Iris and Rose are twins, but though their appearance is similar, they are nothing alike. Other characters include a street urchin with only a single tooth who dreams of somehow making enough money to buy a set of new teeth and as a result of reading this book I learned many things about where "false" teeth came from and let me tell you, you will never be able to u-know this information which is both riveting and odious at the same time. 

Silas is sometimes the villian of the tale, but at times he comes across as pitiable -  a person who has been bullied and badly treated his whole life. This discrimination, beginning with a sense of loathing from his own mother who made it clear to him that he was naught but a hindrance to her and even blamed him for her reduced station in life. Silas was always seen, growing up, as an odd child and his ostracism by other children his age will have readers feeling pity for the poor waif he once was. However, there is another side to Silas; one that he keeps tightly locked inside. It is that dark side that Iris never wants to see. 

Author ELIZABETH MACNEAL has done a terrific job of describing what can happen when a person is shunned and taunted for a lifetime, And, Iris, the book's protagonist is someone who would never disrespect or taunt another human being and ultimately it is her decency and her deformity that brings her to the brink of destruction. The only question is which way fate will tip her; toward a future filled with life and love, or will it tip to her ultimate demise? 

With a plot that twists and turns so many times, readers will not want to put this book down. It is for that reason, and the other reasons I have listed above that I rate this historical/psychological thriller as 5 OUT OF 5 STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

Elizabeth MacNeal has gained a fan in me and I will be eagerly awaiting her next book.
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The cover for The Doll Factory caught my eye (It reminds me of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), then I read the synopsis and knew I just had to request the ARC from Netgalley. This is an exquisite debut from Elizabeth Macneal.

› The Doll Factory is a fantastically dark, odd, heart-breaking tale that takes place in Victorian London, around The Great Exhibition of 1851. The Exhibition displayed the triumphs of industry, culture, and art.
• Thirty-eight-year-old Silas Reed runs a Shop of Curiosities. He supplies taxidermy to artists to use as models and is seeking a remarkable oddity to display at The Great Exhibition which begins in six months. Ten-year-old Albie, expert pick-pocket, brings Silas weird, dead animals in exchange for money. Silas is overjoyed when Albie brings Silas a dead two-headed puppy.
• Albie, who only has one tooth left, is saving money for a new set of teeth, so he works as many odd jobs as he can. In addition to helping Silas, he also sews tiny skirts for Mrs. Salter's Doll Emporium. Mrs. Salter is a mean woman who employs twenty-one-year-old twins Iris and Rose. Iris has a twisted collarbone (broken at birth) and Rose is scarred by smallpox that she contracted when she was sixteen-years-old.

• Iris has an adventurous spirit and wants to escape her life that feels like a prison. Rose was once perfect, however, smallpox has left her with scars everywhere, feeling ugly and unable to have hope of escaping their confined living with Mrs. Salter.
• Albie introduces Silas to Iris, and the man obsessed with oddities becomes immediately infatuated with Iris and her twisted collarbone.
• While having a drink at a pub, Silas learns that the dove he stuffed for a well-known
painter, Louis, has rotted, and his model for his newest painting walked-out. Louis is attempting to create a painting masterpiece to submit for the Exhibition. Silas suggests Louis ask Iris to be his model.

• Louis is a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (a real-life group of English artists founded in 1848). Iris refuses his model offer but agrees to check out his studio. Louis is a determined, charming man, and eventually, Iris agrees to model BUT in return, he must give her painting lessons every day. He pays her a good wage, which allows her to leave Mrs. Salter's Doll Emporium and move into her own apartment. Iris unsuccessfully tries to convince Rose to leave too. Outraged that she would work as a model (which was no better than being a prostitute at the time), her parents refuse to speak with her. 
• Louis and Iris develop a romantic relationship, while Silas becomes completely obsessed with Iris. People are killed, hearts get broken (including my own), but there is a small amount of hope - even the smallest ray of sunshine can cut through shadow.

› Likes 😻
• The writing style is perfection. Macneal writes amazing characters full of personality.
• The setting! OH...the atmosphere. I felt like I was right there in Victorian London.
• Iris is a strong young woman. She's willing to push the boundaries of women's roles to chase her dreams.
• Silas is a psychopath, but I still rooted for him! He's such an amazing character who begins in a morally gray world and slowly drags us down into the deepest depths of darkness.
• Macneal highlights the class division, poverty, gender roles and the social norms of the mid 19th Century. The title is not just about the
Doll Factory that Iris leaves, but about the arbitrary societal rules imposed upon women. Women at the time were confined to rules that made them live a certain way, unable to make their own choices. The title is also about the "Doll Factory" that Silas creates with taxidermy and the way in which he views Iris as simply another oddity to collect. I just LOVE it when a book title has so many different meanings.

› Final Thoughts
• Macneal has created a gritty, gothic historical tale about friendship, love, taking risks, fulfilling dreams, and obsession. If you like character-driven thrillers with a setting that you can smell, and a slow-burning, spine-tingling story then you simply must check out The Doll Factory. One of the best books I've read in 2019! FIVE STARS!

Thank you to Netgalley and publisher for the complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review.
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Macneal does an excellent job of capturing 19th Century London, creating imperfect, complex, layered characters that are both grotesque and relatable. The subtle journey through themes of perfection, beauty, ideals vs reality, and exhibition is done with incredible skill and finesse. 

I found this book to be beautifully disturbing, requiring me to keep reading as I became entangled with the characters.
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I want to thank NetGalley for my eARC for my honest review. Elizabeth Macneal has written a wonderful period piece that is full of great characters as well as evoking a very Dickens like feel. Set in England  at the time of the building of the Crystal palace, I found it a very worthwhile read.
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Deliciously creepy - just enough to make me look over my shoulder.  Excellent read for all you thriller lovers out there.
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3.5 stars. This book took me forever to get into; I had to force myself to pick it up until over halfway through. It was a decent read but the ending was thoroughly unsatisfying after all the protagonist went through.
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