Cover Image: The Doll Factory

The Doll Factory

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Member Reviews

You have to love a book that gives you Gothic romance, the Great Exhibition, pre-Raphaelite artists, taxidermy, Victorian portrait doll making, and a woman breaking boundaries.  And they work together quite well.  Silas will haunt you forever, especially as some of the novel is told from his perspective.  My only quibble with the novel is that my favorite character died, quite senselessly.  He was perhaps the best person in the novel and his absence was notable.  In fact, I read that part three times just to make sure I was reading it correctly.  I'm at a loss as to the reason.  
I enjoyed that our story swirls in and around historical events and people.  Macneal did a great job in weaving fact and fiction and giving us a look into Victorian times.  This is an impressive first novel and I do believe her future endeavors will be even better.
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This is a story about obsession, love, ugliness, beauty, and art. A lovely doll maker begins her career as an artist with the assistance of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in Victorian London. She becomes the obsession of a disturbed taxidermist and ultimately must fight for her life before she becomes his next trophy. The grime and filth of industrial London sweeps through the pages, and along with the descriptions of animal cruelty and dissection, make this a difficult read at times. Nevertheless, fans of “Penny Dreadful” and dark historical fiction will appreciate the attention to detail and horror that make this novel hard to put down.
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This was an intriguing story of passion, art ad obsession. One of my favorite elements of the story was the setting. I always have a great excitement for stories set back in history. 

Iris has a life that has been set out for her. Ties to a sister that suffered misfortune in life, she dreams of living for herself, doing what she is passionate about and being recognized as an individual. When an opportunity presents itself she has to make a choice. Continue on the path that has been set for her or start living or lose everything she has known for the life that she wants. 

While Iris follows her decision Silas waits in the wings. Waiting for the chance to befriend the beautiful and interesting creature that is Iris. Longing for companionship, he feels that their paths have crossed for a reason. That she is meant to be his and he hers. Soon his longing turns to obsession. An obsession that will cause him to have her at any cost.
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I am conflicted about this book. I thought the author did a wonderful job evoking the time period, and the Pre-Rafaelite artists, about whom I know just enough to enjoy this story set among them. 

However, I found the "thriller" elements too predictable, and i did not feel as driven to keep reading as I expect from that genre at its best. 

That said, I am really glad I had the opportunity to read this book, and think that it will be a bit with many readers. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read this ARC.
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First, thanks to NetGalley for the chance to read the ARC of this novel.

I love horror fiction and I love historical fiction. Unfortunately, for me, this novel failed on both accounts. I couldn't find a character I liked and the world the author created was too strange for me to relate to. It reads awkwardly in places and the prose is rough in spots. I was not able to finish this book because it lost my interest. It seems to meander around with no point and no hope for the characters.

Great cover and an interesting title, but not one for me.
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This book has characters you wouldn’t normally read about ,a disfigured sibling, a taxidermist.   A beautifully written and haunting emotional story
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Very good story! The atmoshpere of this novel and the setting were done very well. Also, the character development was done very well also.
I really enjoyed this dark, twisted, and chillingly romantic tale.
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The Doll Factory is completely dreadful, in the absolute best sense of the word. It was Set in London in the 1800s, the story revolves around Iris and her sister Rose, both mostly poor and working in a dollmaker's shop. Rose sews the dresses, and Iris does the intricate painting required on the faces. Their favorite game is "dead, or alive?" The dolls are either playthings for the rich children of the clients, or a cherished embodiment of a dead child, based on a photo of what we know in modern times as the photos of deceased children that were propped up for the photo. Iris longs to break free of this life and paint as a real artist, but guilt for her twin holds her back as she was scarred by small pox and will never find love and a life of her own. A series of events throws Iris into the path of Louis, a painter in the PRB (pre-Raphaelite brotherhood) and Silas, a loathsome man that makes modern taxidermy look like a build-a-bear workshop. Louis wants her to model for him, and they fall head over heels in love with each other, causing her to become a fallen woman in the eyes of all who profess to love her, while Silas's obsession over her grows in a mounting tension in the background. In the midst of this is an adorable "urchin" named Albie who is struggling with telling Iris just how dangerous Silas is, because of the threat to his own sister. A cruel fate befalls Albie on his way to warn Iris, and a fight with Louis puts her directly in his path, with no one the wiser to where she's disappeared to. 

From here the book descends into chaotic madness, which has been creeping along the edges of the pages all along, a mounting dread that's been lurking in the glimpses we get of the cesspool of Silas's mind. MacNeal brings to life the horror that is captivity and degradation and the tantalizing possibility of escape at any notice. It's pulse pounding, tense, and a true edge of your seat read. I have absolutely nothing to add that isn't positive about this book. It's a true great in the world of atmosphere, thriller and horror. A true Victorian masterpiece of madness.
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This was not my kind of story. It’s about twin girls, one beautiful and the other scared  by smallpox in Victorian England.
And a character I really disliked, a taxidermist who collected some really disgusting things. When he went after one of the twins is when I quit reading!
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This debut novel was fantastic! Macneal’s characters took me right in to this story about society’s constraints, poverty, obsession, love and the making of art. It was complex and dark and creepy but in all the right ways! It was refreshing to read a thriller set in Dickensian’s London; that particular time period was a perfect background for this page-turner.
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“The Doll Factory” is a very unusual book... I’m sorry to say, it did not work for me.  I did not find the reference to the taxidermist work to be to my liking.  Though I did finish the book, it was a hard struggle.  It seemed v.e.r.y slow paced until the ending.  
If you like historical fiction with a dark, creepy side, you will like this book.  I think this story borders on being a horror/thriller🤷🏼‍♀️
Many thanks to NetGallery, the publisher and author for the opportunity to read “The Doll Factory” in exchange for my true and honest review.
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Thank you to the author, the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.

I was invited to read this one - and was very pleased to have read it. It was a little more of a challenging read for me as of lately, I have been binge reading mass published psychological thrillers. The Doll Factory was packed with historical details, but it wasn't stuffy or hard to read like I find some historical fiction to be. The characters are almost creepy real - some moments I found my arms covered in goosebumps.  Overall, a beautifully written, almost Gothic and noir-like. If you're looking for a deeper read, this is it.
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I was invited by the publisher to read The Doll Factory based on titles I had read in the past and while I appreciate this offer, I don't think I will be finishing The Doll Factory at this time. Right off the bat, the story was very grotesque. However, I really liked the setting of the story, 1850s London, as I really enjoy the dialect and various quirks of folks during that time. I may go back and read this in the future.
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Historical fiction based in the 1850s, Elizabeth Macneal's debut book is a dark gothic thriller. The book moved a bit slow for me at the beginning but  picked up steam. This book is a mix of fact and fiction, dark and artistic. Macneal is a great story teller and pulls you into the characters and their lives in the Victoria era.
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Reminiscent of THE COLLECTOR and YOU, this novel is hypnotic, dark, brooding and oh so good! I was immediately sucked into the story as--even though I'm not usually a fan of Victorian fiction--the characters of Iris, Louis, Silas, and street urchin Albie were so well-drawn and interesting that I couldn't pull myself away. I know next to nothing about the world of art so this too was a fascinating draw for me. Iris is chosen by Louis to model as the Queen for his painting in exchange for her own art lessons. All appears to be well until Silas, the obsessive taxidermist focusses his attention on Iris and decides he must possess her after she rebuffs his advances. The prose is poignant and witty, the locations vividly drawn, and the dialogue captures the Victorian era so well you can picture it perfectly. This novel NEEDS to be made into a movie! Macneal has managed to address history, art, love and obsession, all the while painting the picture of the disparities and inequalities of the Victorian era as well as Iris's desire to overcome the male-dominant perceptions and become a woman worthy of attention for her own talents and desires.
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This book is set in 1850’s London, and it follows the tales of several different characters. The character development was very well done even though it was easy to get confused about who was who in the beginning! It is a dark and twisty tale of an unrequited love but Silas and a tale of personal growth for Iris and all of the others in between. This book isn’t my normal genre but it was still a good read.
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The title is a bit misleading as not much of the story takes place in the doll factory where the main character, Iris, works. Set in Victorian era London, The Doll Factory is dark and depressing, both in the central plot about a man obsessed with a woman he barely knows, and the descriptions of the miserable conditions many Londoners faced during this period- waste and garbage in the streets, throngs of homeless children, and just a general gloom that hangs in the air. The writing is what makes The Doll Factory-it's almost hypnotic in its intensity. The Doll Factory is infatuation taken to a deadly extreme- Silas, the man obsessed with Iris is deeply disturbed, and behaves in unspeakably inhumane ways towards both people and animals. Think Glen Close in Fatal Attraction-then multiply it by 100- and you have The Doll Factory.
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To be honest, this is not my favorite genre. However, it is well written and very well researched. The story is written in the present tense and the plot takes place in London in the 1850s. There are a lot of characters and at times it became confusing. A strange mixture of crime and romance.
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This is a deeply atmospheric tale with a surprisingly modern premise: creepy dude becomes obsessed with a woman he does not know and becomes violent when she does not return his affections. 

I certainly saw parallels between Silas in this book and modern Internet stalkers/"incels" who create elaborate fantasies in their minds about women, projecting all of their hopes and dreams onto imaginary romances only to find that reality in no way matches up. In that respect, this was a very timeless story. These "Doll Factory" characters may lack indoor plumbing and modern conveniences, but they still have the same emotional foibles as people today.

I guess, based on the premise of this book, I had some expectation on how this book would read. In some cases, those expectation were wrong. 

First, I had thought the story would focus way more heavily on Silas' obsession with Iris. When in reality that "relationship" was merely an element of the book. Instead, the bulk of the story revolved around Iris' journey of self-discovery and relationship with Louis, an editorial choice I really appreciated. 

Secondly, given Silas' occupation, I had expect that this book would be way more gruesome that it was. To be clear, Silas was still a very sick man, and there ARE gruesome discussions about snot/poop, etc, but this certainly isn't a gothic horror tale. 

Two final words on the story...

First, I must give a shout out for my very favorite character Albie, the one-toothed street urchin who is just trying to be a good human. In my opinion, he's the heart of this story and added a lot of depth to the narrative.   

Secondly, what's with these covers? Neither of the versions posted on Goodreads seem to capture the vibe of the story I read. Seems like just sticking a hodgepodge of elements under a bell jar, when clearly it's about sticking a WOMAN under there (or at least a mouse dressed up to look like her).  

Thanks to the author and NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Two people meet up during the 1800's in London yet for all intense purposes it's not a meeting of the minds as it becomes dark rather quickly.
Iris is an attractive young artist who runs into Silas a man with an obsessive streak.
When Iris is approached to model she is surprised but elated as her only request is to learn how to paint.
Her world is growing leaps and bounds but she has no idea that evil and darkness lurks nearby.
Rose and Iris are of course sisters who worked for Madame Salter however she never thought she'd fall in love with Louis the man teaching her to paint much to the dismay of Silas who kidnaps the ladies.
For me the entire book was very odd in providing that feeling that you're unsure whether what you read was correct or misunderstood.
So for that reason I gave it a lower score as even in the ending with the epilogue I still was unsure of their rescue.
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