The Doll Factory

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 19 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

Obsession! Man, that can be a scary word, right? Obsession can come from a place of jealousy, greed, or even illness. Obsession is an idea that can take over every aspect of one’s life. Of course, it often starts small but when a person is obsessed with winning, dating someone, having the most followers on social media it can become the only thing that is important to them. The detrimental part is when it becomes unhealthy because we have crossed a line, we can’t come back from…like this story! 
The Doll Factory is a creepy, psychological thriller. It is very descriptive so you can really picture the characters and some of them are just frightening. I wanted to close my eyes! The Great Exhibition is coming to Hyde Park, in the 1850s, and everyone wants their art on display. Silas and Iris happen to meet that day. For Iris it is a brief encounter, nothing more. For Silas she is the only thing he can focus on. Iris is asked to model and learns to paint and even falls in love. Silas though, he has other plans for her. There is an interesting supporting cast in this one and be prepared for descriptions that might turn your stomach. Silas is a taxidermist and collects strange things. This one is a slow burn that you can see coming, but a couple things still shocked me.
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A thriller/stalker set in Victorian London. I liked the characters and the time period was well researched. Some descriptions of the times, I did gloss over as the were a bit too gory for my taste. At times, it did seem that the pace of the story was very slow. Overall, I found this to be an interesting read. I received a complimentary copy from NetGalley and the publisher and this is my honest opinion.
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Gothic novels are not usually my jam, but the buzz around The Doll Factory had me intrigued. I'm glad I gave it a chance, as I breezed through this oh so creepy and thrilling story.
Macneal's highly atmospheric Victorian era London leaps from the page, no question. But what I most appreciated about this novel was the richly layered characters, some becoming more empathetic and others becoming more and more sinister as the plot thickens. Silas is a villain that I won't soon forget, and felt reminiscent in many ways of Joe from Caroline Kepnes' You. But, unlike the aforementioned You, the object of obsession in The Doll Factory is given a complex personality. I felt a great deal of empathy for Iris, and the intricacies of her relationship with her sister, with Louis and with the requisite street urchin with a heart of gold, Albie - who also has a much more robust inner life than a typical Victorian scamp.
There is also a clear theme on feminism and the plight of an unmarried young woman that felt like a fresh take on historical fiction from this time period.
“she has been careful not to encourage men, but not to slight them either, always a little fearful of them. She is seen as an object to be gazed at or touched at leisure … something for which she should be grateful. She should appreciate the attentions of men more, but she should resist them too, subtly, in a way both to encourage and discourage, so as not to lead to doubts of her purity and goodness but not to make the men feel snubbed.”
This novel has a little something for everyone: multi dimensional characters, rich atmosphere, historical fiction, mystery, thrills, suspense, with a little horror thrown in (taxidermy description is not for the faint of heart). My only reservation would be for a reader that wants to be invested in romance. Yes there is a love story, but I did not feel invested in it, and I thought Iris could do better. 
Many thanks to Atria books for the complimentary review copy!
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Book and Film Globe review: 


Review by Michael Giltz

Debut novelist Elizabeth Macneal sets The Doll Factory in Victorian England, with the backdrop of both the Great Exhibition of 1851 and an artistic revolution led by the self-dubbed Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Iris, a striking and talented would-be painter who is trapped by circumstance, connects the two worlds. She wastes her talents by crafting dolls in the window of a little store, on display side by side with her pox-scarred sister.

One of the artists in the PBR becomes determined to paint Iris, bewitched by her unusual looks and, soon, her talent. Another man, Silas, is obsessed with displaying his taxidermy skills at the Great Exhibition and adding Iris to his “private collection.”

It’s a Dickensian novel, with a clutch of promising characters like the laudanum-addicted owner of the doll factory, a street urchin who finds dead things and sells them to the taxidermist, and, of course, two sisters trapped by fate in their miserable jobs and straitened lives.

But the more time we spend with these people, the less interesting they become. The characters never surprise us for a moment, never truly spring to life. And the longer they go without surprising us, the more two-dimensional they seem until the entire plot is fit only for a melodrama performed on the stage. At the climax of the tale, all that’s missing is a moustache for the villain to twirl and a train to barrel down the tracks where a heroine wails for help.

Nonetheless, Macneal sets up her story well enough. She spends her best effort on the twin sisters Iris and Rose. Iris is the homelier of the two until smallpox afflicts Rose, robbing her of both her beauty and her beau in one fell swoop. She spurns Iris but they must work shoulder to shoulder all day long at the doll factory.

Salvation arrives for Iris when the artist Louis Frost asks the shy woman to model for him. Of course, this is really damnation for her since a model is little better than a whore, however noble Louis’s intentions may be (and  his intentions are noble, tiresomely so). Yet Iris risks it when he offers to teach her to paint. But Silas always lurks in the background. He obsessively follows Iris around town, imagines an intimacy between them that never existed and vows revenge when she “rejects” him.

It’s hard to say when the novel lost me. Was it the street urchin with a heart of gold, a lad prevented from warning of danger only by the most random of acts?

Was it the artist Louis? Yes, he’s wealthy and unconventional. So we can maybe forgive his cluelessness about how much Iris risks by saying yes to his desire to paint her. But can he really be so daft as to consider it a reasonable plan for Iris to blossom from a promising student into a major artist that might well exhibit her work alongside his in just one year’s time?

Worst of all are the novel’s plodding “revelations” about Silas’ madness. He seems bonkers from the start, and I soon realized the truth about the lies Silas tells himself, which stretch back to his childhood. So when Macneal reveals towards the end how mad he really is, I couldn’t help but think, “I know! I know!”  It’s OK for readers to be a few steps ahead of the characters, but we shouldn’t be miles ahead of the author.

And did everyone have to be quite so precisely what they seemed at first blush? Mightn’t Louis have been a little less noble in his desires? Did every hooker need to be tragic and kind? Wouldn’t the creepy Silas have been creepier still if he seemed more human and less mad?

Macneal is a talented potter as well as a successful author. But I fear her first work seems a bit of a crock. I wish she’d taken the raw material, kneaded it all together, tossed it back on the kiln, and had another go.
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I did not finish this, not because it was bad, but  it just wasn't for me. Nothing sparked my interest, and some things were just a little too uncomfortable for me.
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I really enjoyed this debut novel by Elizabeth Macneal.  The Doll Factory is set in the Victorian and it is a uniquely dark, twisted thriller from that era.  Granted, this novel is more graphic than other mysteries and thrillers in this genre, so don't make the mistake of thinking it is a cozy mystery.  It is not that at all.  Iris and Rose are twin sisters who work in a doll-makers shop.  Rose has been physically ravaged by Small Pox.  Iris dreams of being an artist.  When Iris gets the opportunity to work as a model for an up-and-coming painter in exchange for painting lessons, she jumps at the opportunity even though it will disparage her reputation.  Art models were apparently akin to prostitutes in those days.

Unbeknownst to Iris, she has captured the attention of Silas, an artist whose specializes in turning dead things into art....sometimes killing them to make it so.  Silas turns out to be quite mentally unstable and sets his sites on forcing a relationship with Iris, with her barely noticing his clumsy efforts.

In a time period when gender and class were the primary determinants of how ones life would unfold, options for the poor and female were limited. Either they remained practically destitute or they had to get lucky enough to gain the favor of those in other classes.  When Iris is targeted, at her social class, her likelihood of aid was not strong.  

There is romance and some sex.  There is definitely some cruelty toward animals.  While it is never graphic regarding the animal cruelty, it is still disturbing for someone like me, who hates the thought of animals being killed strictly for art.

Thanks so much to the author, NetGalley and Atria Books for providing me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.  Elizabeth Macneal is an author to watch!
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So I didn't hate this one.

I actually really loved the last 20% of this book. It was horrifying, well told, a complete page-turner. My problem with this was that the first 80% I found to be pretty boring. I only stuck through to the end because I heard it picked up later on. While I'm glad I read it (the last part was worth it) I can't say I'd read it again if given the chance. 

I loved the setting, the whole Victorian Era and the Great Exhibition was amazing and the setting was horrifyingly beautiful. The character of Silas was very well done and I fell in love with Iris and Louis' love story. 

Things I didn't love:
How long it took for the real story to get going.
The animal cruelty throughout. I know it was part of his character but I just never want to read about that. 
The lack of closure at the end. 

I don't know about this one. It is a good book, maybe just not for me.
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I will start off by saying I don’t read a lot of historical fiction. I’m just not drawn to the stories and I have a hard time staying interested. This was the case for me with this book. I did however, really like the storyline. I just had a hard time reading this one. The writing was great and maybe I’ll try this book again when I’m in a drought and can focus more on this one. Thank you for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Two sisters, Iris and Rose, paint dolls for a living. Iris dreams of being an artist, and gets the chance to leave her oppressed working conditions. Rose is jealous, and doesn't want Iris to have a better life than her. The better opportunity is to model for a painter, and in exchange, he will teach her to paint. Meanwhile, Silas, a taxidermist, see Iris and becomes infatuated with her. She is too preoccupied with other things to notice him. That leads to her becoming trapped in his dark obsession.

The setting of 1850s Victorian London is dark and dramatic. Iris's life is bleak, and her journey to improving her life is interesting. She has no support, and takes a big chance by attempting to be an artist. Silas, the man obsessed with Iris, slows descends into madness when Iris rejects his advances. Both make for intriguing characters.

Complex characters in a slow-burning historical thriller. Grim, creepy, and atmospheric.

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Thanks to Flatiron for the free copy in exchange for my honest review

3.5/5 stars - rounded up for rating

So I’m a big fan of historical fiction, and if it’s on the darker side, then that’s a winning combination for me! THE DOLL FACTORY by Elizabeth Macneal is set in Victorian London and we are presented with a unique cast of characters, perfectly detailed surroundings, and obsession and desire in multiple forms.

We are introduced to little Albie, a kid living on the streets that collects dead animals for Silas in exchange for money. Albie’s motives are to help him get a full set of teeth and this desire benefits the taxidermist with aspirations of having his own museum of oddities. We also are introduced to twin sisters, Iris and Rose. They work together for the laudanum (contains opium and morphine) addicted Mrs. Slater. Iris paints the china dolls’ faces while Rose clothes them – but Iris doesn’t want to be stuck where she is forever. When her path crosses with artist Louis Frost, she strikes up a deal with him that she’ll model for him only if he gives her painting lessons.

The greatest obsession? Iris and Silas meet, while something easily forgotten by Iris, it began a deep and dark obsession for Silas. She will be his, and he’ll do anything to make that happen. I think that those readers that are expecting an incredibly dark story throughout might leave disappointed. This is a true historical fiction novel, and towards the end is when the suspense, horror, and pacing really pick up. So if you keep that in mind, then I think you’ll enjoy it more. I was kind of hoping for a little more, but it didn’t take away from the reading experience.

Despite the slower pace, the writing is beautiful and fluid. We get a deep character study and I was impressed by how we could connect with this bigger cast and without anyone getting lost or confused. Macneal set the scene perfectly and transported you straight into the Victorian London era. Overall, if you’re a fan of historical fiction, then I would highly recommend picking this one up!
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Thank you, Netgalley, for this arc. The synopsis definitely sounded intriguing, and the writing was overall lovely and transported you to 1850 London. There are some scenes of graphic content, such as animal abuse/deaths so dog lovers especially, go into those parts carefully. I agree with another reviewer where they said not much happens in this book. You knew exactly what was going to happen, in regards to Silas and his obsession. I would have appreciated more of a concrete ending, things explained a bit more. All in all, not bad.
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Thank you to NetGalley, Simon and Schuster, Atria Books and Atria/Emily Bestler Books for the ARC of The Doll Factory in exchange for an honest review. 
I was excited to read this novel due to all the positive reviews.  This novel is set in Victorian England and is about a man who has an obsession with a woman.  The man, Silas, is creepy!!! He is a taxidermist - especially loving  odd creatures - and a killer.  He sees Lily, who has a deformed collarbone, and becomes obsessed with her,, to a dangerous degree.. Lily is oblivious to his attentions.  There is also a tale of romance between Lily and her love of painting and Louis, her mentor.  And, finally, there is a story of love and loss between Lily and her sister, Rose.
The tale is sinister and dark.  It also beautifully illustrates the grittiness of 1850s London.  The author writes very descriptively and you could sense the sounds and smells of the city.  I like how it described the art world, the struggling artists, the Great Exposition in London.  I also liked the descriptive writing about the desperate times and the struggle of the poor. 
#NetGalley #AtriaBooks #AtriaEmilyBestler  #SimonandSchuster #ElizabethMacneal
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I have to say that this book is a combination of odd, creepy, and even a bit disturbing. While it was somewhat what I thought it would be, this author delves into the downtrodden, under belly of Victorian London.

She shows us a world that is scary and creepy. Her descriptions are such that you can just visualize the filth and despair. Desperation and fear abounds in such a matter that you are sucked right into the city, connecting with the characters.

For a first time author, Macneal nails it with her in-depth character development. The odd and peculiar abounds while making this novel unique and engrossing. Silas creeped me out and the reader is kept on pins and needles with knowing what is to come yet not knowing when.

The Doll Factory left me thinking long and hard about whether I enjoyed this book or was just compelled to keep reading. It is captivating! This book stays with you, worming into your psyche and leaving you feeling just a bit creeped out.
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I like books that take place in Victorian England settings. And I also like books about art, so this book grabbed my attention. Pretty impressive for a debut novel.  Books seems well-researched and makes you feel like you are in the middle of a gothic thriller.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advance reading copy of this book. It was a very descriptive story of obsession  Creepy and gothic, the author hooks her readers with the macabre. I give this book a 3.5 out of 5.
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A Doll Factory is the location of this fascinating look at Victorian life through the eyes of both a budding feminist and a serial killer.

Iris is an aspiring artist painting doll faces at Mrs. Salter’s Doll Emporium in 1850s London. Mrs. Salter is a harsh taskmistress especially when in the throes of her legal drug addiction. Iris is by all accounts beautiful except for a skewed collarbone which never set correctly when broken during her youth.

Iris has a brief encounter with Silas, a taxidermist fascinated with “curiosities” such as Iris’. Silas becomes obsessed with Iris and vows to have her.

The Doll Factory has something for everyone. It is a romance, a mystery, and historical fiction. The best part is it is a story of a nascent feminist working against society’s beliefs of a woman’s place. I enjoyed this take on a Victorian serial killer thriller. I think you will too if you like historical fiction. 4 stars!

Thanks to Emily Bestler Books, Atria, and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
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This book feels like it has been written for the shock value of one very morbid and disturbed character. The mutilation of animals for his entertainment was just too much for me and kicked me out of the story so many time. Yet, I persevered to the end. Whew! 

On to the next item that pulled my attention away from the story. It has a constant thread  of feminism in a historical setting woven through out. However, it was distracting as I was constantly wondering the historical accuracy. The believability was incredible low. 

Next, the twin sister codependency was mentioned so much at the the beginning, ad nauseam, only to not be important later on. It invalidates their codependency that gave the main character such an emotional dilemma in the beginning of the book. The character's personality changes so much from the beginning to the end, that it feels like two different charters altogether. The codependency trope was needed for one purposed, to create tension, and forgotten once the story progressed. Then the main characters changes into a strong feminist that no longer needed her twin sister. That is not how codependency works. 

I really wanted to like this book based off of the synopsis, which is why I requested it from Netgalley However, this was a major miss for me. I was expecting a psychologically thriller in a historical setting. Instead I got a sick and twisted man that mutilates animals, a flakey, codependent, twin sister turned feminist, and a man that wants to help a feminist when it is in his best interest. Oh, and the constant reminder that it is set in 1850's Londons.  

If by some chance, you read my review and think this book is for you, go ahead and give it a read. If not, give it a pass. I would not recommend this book at all.
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Rich, atmospheric and imaginative, I easily visualized this book as a movie (Hugh Jackman, please?). Set in the gloom of Victorian England, MacNeal has created three strong yet flawed characters. Beautiful aspiring artist Iris who has walked away from a suffocating life, strange Silas, a taxidermist whose creepiness and obsession with dead critters and Iris ratchets up tension through the final pages, and artist/mentor Louis, the driver behind Iris’s growth as she meets a whole new world. Through the character of Louis, I discovered the secret society Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood, a real-life organized group of young rebellious male artists who banded together in the late1840’s. I was fascinated and upon finishing this story, went on to search more about this group and their mission.
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As a fan of Dickens, I was happy to read and feel that this book was a tad Dickens-light in writing style. Gone were the overly wordy descriptions Dickens used to use (because he was paid based on length) but what remained was still that honest realistic view of life in Victorian times. It sounds odd but I wish Silas' character had been fleshed out a bit more. I would have loved to have met him earlier in his life or had more flashbacks to fully explore what brought him to the point he was at. His mental illness seemed to be a given without a foundation. I was also disappointed with the amount of violence towards animals. It got to be a bit overwhelming. But underneath all this was a good story of obsession.
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Psychological thriller. Dark, gothic. Who knew the art world could be so terrifying ? Didn't love it but it was a good book. Not my usual genre, for fans of this genre I am sure they will absolutely love it.
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