Cover Image: The Doll Factory

The Doll Factory

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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.

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.
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3.5 Stars

I was lured into reading this book because of its locale and time period (Victorian London), the Dickensian / gothic atmosphere, and the promise of all things weird. This book delivered on all fronts.

The main character is Iris, who with her twin sister Rose works in a porcelain doll shop in London. The apprenticeship was set up by their parents. The establishment is sandwiched in between other storefronts, one of which is a bakery, resulting in sugary scents wafting into their shop. Iris has artistic talent, and is responsible for painting the faces on the dolls. Rose sews the garments to clothe the dolls. However, a street urchin named Albie has sewing work outsourced to him, which he brings to the shop regularly for payment. Iris and Rose were both beautiful, tall and with long, bountiful auburn hair. However, Iris has a slight deformity of her collarbone which was broken during birth and never healed correctly. Rose's fate was much more cruel. Once the fairer of the two sisters, after contracting smallpox her skin has a purplish cast and is ruined with crater scars. She clings to Iris more than ever, her chance for marriage non-existent.

Albie is my favorite character in the book. His tale is heartbreaking, yet he never gives up. He's a hard worker, resourceful, good-hearted, and has a great survival instinct. He also is a loyal brother to his sister, who works as a prostitute in a seedy basement brothel, her being the cheapest option in the house. He is forever chided for the one front tooth left in his mouth and called "Fang". He dreams of buying a set of false teeth, saving whatever he can scavenge towards that goal. In addition to sewing little skirts for the porcelain doll shop, he also bags dead animals for a very strange man named Silas Reed. Silas has a taxidermy shop with items such as birds frozen in flight, dressed up mice, butterflies under glass, and skeletal remains. Artists sometimes procure items (such as a stuffed dove or a dog) to use in their paintings. There are sometimes strange and unpleasant odors around his shop due to the rotting remains of the animals he works on, depending how careful he has been maintaining things. For on occasion Silas has been distracted... obsessed and angered with women, and has suffered abuse as a child. He's a lifelong victim of rejection, beginning with his mother. Now he has focused his sights on Iris. Initially riveted by the subtle disfigurement of her collarbone, he is now swept away by her overall beauty.

Iris's beauty has also been noticed by a painter named Louis who wants her to be his model. Iris is dazzled by Louis's attractive home which houses his art studio, but is conflicted by the thought of leaving her sister alone at the doll shop. Also, her parents will disown her entirely if she adopts the scandalous job position of painter's model. Yet, she yearns to leave the depressing environs of the doll shop and also wishes to explore her own burgeoning talent as a painter.

This is London during the time of Queen Victoria, and the Great Exhibition is taking place in Hyde Park. Both Louis (and his fellow artist group) and Silas have pieces on display for this exhibition, and hopes are high for a positive reception. There are dark themes in this story such as prostitution, poverty, animal abuse, murder, and mental illness. This book reminded me a bit of a movie from 1965 called "The Collector". There is the terror of evil pursuit, entrapment, and a twisted mind. Quite frankly, if I wasn't reading/reviewing this for the publisher, I possibly would have put this aside for something else. However, the story was written well enough to keep me hanging on.
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While the characters and story line were intriguing and I usually enjoy the disturbing, the story moved along too slowly for me to enjoy.
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Iris has always dreamed of being an artist, a real artist, not just someone stuck in a doll maker’s home painting faces on china doll heads. In London in 1850, however, there were few options for young women outside of marriage, and Iris, with her twisted collarbone, and her twin sister Rose, disfigured by smallpox, had little chance of being marriage material.

Louis was a painter, and after seeing Iris at the building of the Great Exposition, he asked her to model for him. She was reluctant, knowing that modeling was just a step above prostitution, but the offer of painting lessons and the chance to live her own life was just too great to pass up. Rose and her parents disapproved and consequently disowned her, and though Iris was saddened, her new life with Louis was much more fulfilling in many ways.

Silas was a strange man by the standards of the day, one who was fascinated by skeletons and death. He was a taxidermist, frequented by the artists when they needed animals for their artworks. Silas had a darker side, and would make up stories about the animals he stuffed for his shop that usually had a punishment theme. When he saw Iris, he became obsessed, and was determined to have her in his life.

Victorian London is sad and difficult, with people struggling to survive, let alone to rise above their current situations. I appreciated Iris’ courage in following her dreams of painting, even at the cost of losing her family. Overall, I found the story to be slow going during the first half, and though there is great detail and description, I felt that too much time was taken to set the scene, and I was a bit bored.
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All words which can be used to describe The Doll Factory, a Gothic Victorian tale set in London in 1850.  When Iris, an aspiring artist meets Louis, pre-Raphaelite artist she agrees to model for him in exchange for painting lessons.  She spends her days painting doll faces and years for more. Silas has also met Iris and he has plans of his own - dark plans which lead to obsession.

This is a dark tale that often had me thinking how lucky I am to live in this day and age. 

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 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.  

Thank you to Atria books and NetGalley who provided me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
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I really enjoyed the creepy gothic feel of this novel and thought the author did a wonderful job of capturing Victorian London.  Where I did struggle though was that I prefer a book where I feel some connection to the main characters and I unfortunately just didn't feel that with the characters in this book.  Some of the taxidermy scenes were a little too much for me as well.  It's an entertaining read but one that I don't think will stick with me long term.
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This book was really eerie and a different read for me.  The characters were all interesting and well developed even though some of them were strange.  I appreciate having the opportunity to read it.
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Thank you Atria / Emily Bestler Books for the digital copy in exchange for an honest review! 

The premise of this sounded SO good! I was very excited to get my hands on this one. Unfortunately, I couldn't get through it. I made it to page 100 and I put it down. 

I wasn't a fan of the writing, and there were too many pieces of the story that I cringed at while reading. 
Ex: animal death. 

Silas was just too much for me. He collected dead animals, and did weird things with them. I was very overwhelmed. Iris was probably the only normal character with normal ambitions. I will admit that the characters in the novel were very distinguishable. Good character development.  

I really wanted to love it, and if the author ever writes another book I may give it a shot.
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When I first started this book I didn't think I was going to like it because it started off so slow. Over time though I found myself getting so attached to the characters that I was hooked. I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen and where this story was going. Iris went through a lot of character growth in this story and I really liked following her story along. Her interactions with Louis, a painter, was one of my favorite parts of the story.  The character of Albie was so sweet and I loved his relationship with his sister and how much he cared about her. Silas was so interesting to read from because the way he could take a situation and twist it in his head was fascinating. He is a character very out of touch with reality and the way he could justify things to himself was almost impressive. Macneal did an amazing job writing such well fleshed out characters and I am blown away that she is a debut author. I will definitely be reading more from her in the future.

However, there was an event that happened in this book that I really didn't appreciate at all. In fact, it made me so mad that I wanted to close my kindle and not finish this book. It is a huge spoiler so I am going to be vague but I got so upset because I didn't think it was necessary to the story or plot at all. It felt almost exploitative in the way it messed with my feelings for no reason other than to be shocking. Upon finishing the book I can see why Macneal made the choice that she did but off the top of my head I can come up with three or four different ways she could have achieved the same result. I looked up reviews for this book when I finished and I can't find anyone who mentioned what I am talking about so I'm definitely in the minority with my reaction.
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I listened to this book on audio, and I would very much recommend it. My experience with the story was surely elevated by a good narrator, who was capable of imbuing each scene with needed emotional beats and was also very good at giving different characters distinctive voices.

That said, the story itself did not fully captivate me. I enjoyed all of the historical nods, especially all of the stuff with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. But the actual mystery/conflict was a little bit formulaic and I was just waiting to reach the conclusion. It felt like I had the information a few chapters before the characters and that was frustrating to me.
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I tried a few times but for some reason I just could not get into this book. The first chapter just really put me off and I only mad enough it thru a few chapters before I gave up and eventually moved on to something else.
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Unfortunately for some reason I just could not get into this book. The main struggle for me was feeling like I couldn't relate to the characters. Therefore, it was really hard for me to stay invested. I hate to say it, but I only made it through 20% of this book before I had to put it down and pick up something else.
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My feedback here is late to the party.  I enjoyed this book, but it was relatively forgettable.  I'd recommend it to others as a quick read.
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Unfortunately, this book is not for me.  I have tried to get into it, but never grabbed me.  Being moody reader, likely me, as I didn’t think it was poorly written, which was why I gave a 3 for neutral and will update if later I’m able to finish.
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With The Doll Factory being a historical fiction, it makes sense why some of the story sounds familiar as I 
probably read a form of this story a few years ago. This story is creepy as in Silas is a crazy/obsessive man. I think Iris is probably a beautiful woman but people can't look past her malformed collarbone that was broken during birth and wasn't set correctly. The living conditions back in 1851 are horrible especially for women.  All they were good for back then was being a wife. I liked how even though Iris had been knocked down multiple times by her family she got the strength to venture out to do what she truly loved and that was painting. There was some suspense and danger. It was well worth the read
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I knew I was going to love this novel when I read that it was perfect for fans of "The Historian" and "The Crimson Petal and the White". Elizabeth Macneal delivered a dark debut full of obsessions, societal expectations, and the inner circle of a group of artists in 1850s London. Full of dirty streets, pubs, prostitutes, and dead animals, Macneal succeeds in achieving realistic depictions of life beyond the beauty of art's creation and display. This gritty historical novel is perfect for readers looking for their next gorgeously creepy read.⁠
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When you think of creepy, deranged thrillers, what comes to mind? For me, it’s Stephen King novels, last year’s Baby Teeth, and now, this book!

This one is a slllooooowww in the action is literally in the last 75 pages. But there was something about the atmosphere and the writing that kept me turning the pages. This may be one of the most messed up books I’ve ever read (yes, maybe even worse than Baby Teeth and that one is seriously disturbing).

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I got a whole different story. I’m happy to say that this one worked for me, but be aware that there are some very graphic and gruesome scenes. If you’re particularly sensitive to animal cruelty, you may want to skip this one.
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So gothic! So darkly creepy-cool! I thoroughly enjoyed this book! 

The story is set in 1850s Victorian London. Iris and her twin sister Rose work at Mrs. Salter's Doll Factory. But Iris wants more...  She isn't content with a life spent painting delicate porcelain dolls. Painting children's playthings or mourning dolls memorializing the dead isn't enough. Iris wants to be a professional artist. She meets two an artist who can help her fulfill her dream and another who will becoming completely obsessed with possessing her.....

Wow.....this book is dark, creepy and unputdownable! Total binge read....I stayed up half the night reading because I had to know what happened! I love old Hollywood movies...especially the gothic style horror movies made in the 50s & 60s. This story reminded me so much of those movies -- like House of Wax (the 1953 version, not the horrible re-make), Fall of the House of Usher, The Raven, etc. As I read, I imagined the movie version in my head.  Silas would be played by Vincent Price, of course, and Peter Lorre as Louis. Made for a great reading experience! I could even imagine the dialogue spoken in those two actors' unmistakable voices. Loved it! 

Some portions of this story depict animal cruelty, mental illness and some disturbing imagery. Be prepared for it...   Parental guidance suggested before allowing younger teens to read this book. Just be aware it has some adult subjects, violent/graphic imagery and some harsh topics -- stalking, murder, etc. 

The Doll Factory is Elizabeth Macneal's debut novel! I will definitely be looking for more from this new author! I see in the book blurb that the television rights have been sold to Buccaneer Media....will definitely be on the lookout for a film version (even if it can't have Price & Lorre!)

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Atria books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. Warning: Book may cause sleep deprivation in lovers of gothic style horror. Enjoy! :)**
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I’m probably not the right audience for this book because I am really tired of “woman-in-jeopardy” stories, especially ones with no surprises. This book has a lot of period detail, all of it dark and some of it completely gross. There is also horrible animal abuse. The plot is completely predictable. From the time the creepy stalker is introduced, you know exactly what’s going to happen. You also know immediately what’s going to happen between the artist and his model and what’s going to happen to the model’s career as a painter. I read to the end, but I needn’t have. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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First off, the writing in this book is excellent -- very descriptive and flows well. I was able to visualize everything that was going on, even the paintings and the dolls described, as well as Silas's taxidermy animals. I feel like the author did a lot of research into her time period and subject matter (Victorian time period, painters at that time, painting techniques, taxidermy, the Great Exhibition, The Royal Academy, London, social situations, living conditions, and so much more) and it all shows very well in her writing and story-telling. However, I had a hard time with the story, but that's me personally. I am not really a fan of such dark stories. While it's not a horror book, I felt it was still too dark for my tastes. I wanted some redemption, some happiness, some light. At times, there was, but not enough for my comfort. As such, this book took me quite a while to read because I didn't want to pick it up to feel that heaviness that I got when reading this book. The blurb I read about this book described it as Gothic; and that may be accurate for some readers, but I like the Gothic of "Jane Eyre" and "Dracula" much better than this book, again because of its heaviness. There's animal cruelty, some sexual descriptions (described in a very Victorian manner but yet not at the same time, if that makes sense), violence (not extremely graphic and gory but still heavy and dark), although not really any strong, offensive language/swearing. Still, the feel of the book was just so heavy and depressing that it wasn't really one I loved. I did love and appreciate the author's writing style and descriptions and how well I was able to picture things in my mind from what she wrote. Such mastery of language with characterization and narration for a debut novel is excellent. I felt sorry for Rose and Iris, with the tragedies they experienced in their lives that led to their circumstances, victims of the times and more, Rose devastated from her loss of her lover as a result of her illness and Iris wanting more than being the doll shop apprentice and falling in love with Louis and wanting to become a painter, and Louis's own personal situation. Albie was a lovable street urchin living in horrible circumstances, trying to help his older sister and the simplicity of him just wanting beautiful teeth. Silas is creepy from the get-go, and his past and present slowly draw together and what he's done is revealed and connected as the story goes (although it was obvious to me from the beginning). All of them trying to find happiness, some in twisted ways and others just to get past their circumstances of being born in Victorian London. The ending is left open for the reader to imagine what happens next, though I did want a bit more blatant closure than was given. 

This is not a really negative review from me, because I think there will be people that will love the story line and the dark Gothic/noir feel of the book; it's just that it wasn't my preferred style to read. My stars would be more accurately 4.5-5 stars for the writing and 3 stars for the story itself, so I just gave it an overall rating of the 3 stars.
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