Very often I opt not to review books when I can't figure out to whom they might be recommended, but since this title is up for consideration for a Garden State Teen Book Award nomination, I figure I might as well jot some thoughts down.
The Toymaker is a creepy story, with lots of unsettling bumps along the way, and filled to the brim with a super haunting atmosphere. Mathias has spent his whole short life traveling with his grandfather, Gustav the conjurer, as part of a circus troop. When his grandfather dies, he is taken away by Dr. Leiter and brought to an inn in a small village. But this is no safe and ordinary rescue; Dr. Leiter knows that Gustav has been hiding a secret and he wants to make sure that this particular secret is never uncovered. Dr. Leiter and his "partner," an incredibly violent and unfeeling dwarf named Valder, are willing to go to great lengths to discover what Mathias knows, or destroy him in the process. But a young girl working at the inn named Katta rescues Mathias and propels them both into a whirlwind chase filled with death, fear, pain, and only the smallest chance of survival.
There is little to like about this story or many of the characters. Koening, the Burner who ultimately becomes friend and caregiver to the young ones, has the biggest heart, but the reader is never quite sure of his motive. Stefan, Koenig's brother and companion, and Katta are never without a violent thought for the other. And Mathias is being dragged along through so much of the trip due to injuries and sickness, that the reader never truly comes to know him. Part action/adventure, part fantasy, part mystery, this story blurs lines and take the reader along for quite the ride.
"The Toymaker will touch your heart and haunt you forever." . . . And that's not necessarily a good thing.