London. 1850. The greatest spectacle the city has ever seen is being built in Hyde Park, and among the crowd watching two people meet. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is the encounter of a moment – forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, that meeting marks a new beginning.
When Iris is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love.
But Silas has only thought of one thing since their meeting, and his obsession is darkening . . .
Well I am a real fan of historical novels from now on, I am so impressed with this novel! The Doll Factory is another beautiful historical fiction novel set in 1850’s London. I was completely lost in its wonderful setting. The novel is also very rich in contrasting elements that made it even more of a delight to read. There’s not only society’s eternal divide between the rich and poor but there’re also amazing oppositions with love versus obsession and hate, reality and dreams… and I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel that was so much of a love story and a thriller at the same time, working together so brilliantly towards an astonishing ending.
The title, The Doll Factory, refers to ‘Mrs. Salter’s Doll Imperium’ where I was introduced to Iris who, alongside her sister Rose (who only plays a secondary role), has to paint doll faces. It doesn’t make her happy though, she wants to put her own heart and soul into what she’s doing. It is Silas, a taxidermist, whose eyes fall on Iris and her beauty first but when he is driven into a corner he tells Louis Frost, a pre-Raphaelite painter, where he can find a new muse to finish his painting. Iris has no aspirations to become a model, an occupation considered as lowly as someone selling her body, but it is a means to make her own dreams come true of making it as a painter herself .
Maybe the novel started out a little slow since the blurb already told me how Iris’ life would be changed and I had to wait a while for her to meet Silas and Louis, but once she does the story really picks up and Iris’s new life was as fascinating for me as it was for her. What follows is such a tentative, careful and most courteous love story between Iris and Louis, while Silas’ obsession with Iris only grows and grows and takes on such disturbing proportions it becomes more than worrying. I was perhaps drawn to Iris’ chapters a little more in the beginning, wondering if that obvious connection between them would ever be recognised for what it was, but I was slowly being sucked into Silas’s disturbed world as well. I believe it’s fair to say I loved the first part of the novel most for the romance and the last part for the thrills. I certainly knew it didn’t bode well for Iris and Louis. The more you see them growing towards each other, the bigger my fear and unease grew that Silas would shatter their love spell.
The build-up was brilliant and even though I continually thought about the outcome, it was still able to surprise me and be more horrific than what I had in mind. You realise how deranged Silas is through the novel but never as much as in the end.
I had some expectations about how it would all pan out but it still managed to be much grittier and darker than I had imagined. The last part turns the story into a real and raw thriller where several authors in the genre could learn from, and without it ever feeling forced. I loved every turn of phrase, gobbled up the fear and felt the squeeze in my gut. I was on the edge of my seat really, it was so high on tension! I knew Iris was a strong and determined girl and I loved how strongly she shows it all through the story. She’s a strong and beautiful character. I did wonder (and doubt) whether she’d be able to get Silas to understand she was not and would never be interested in him though. I cheered her along all the way! If you enjoy historical novels you must pick this one up!
I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.