cover image The Toymaker

The Toymaker

Jeremy de Quidt, illus. by Gary Blythe, Random/Fickling, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-75180-3

The death of an elderly, down-on-his-luck conjurer sparks a bloody treasure hunt in this well-written yet unrelentingly bleak debut. For years, the conjurer Gustav has held onto a great and terrible secret, and when he unexpectedly dies, the only clue passes into the hands of his mistreated grandson, Mathias, who's subsequently taken in by the menacing Dr. Leiter, who will do anything to get the information he seeks. Rescued from Leiter by impulsive serving girl Katta, Mathias and his new friend go on the run, eventually meeting up with Koenig, a mysterious bandit who swiftly takes charge of the situation. Mathias and his companions must discover the secret before Leiter and his minions kill them. The poetic descriptions and lyrical narrative do little to hide the general unpleasantness of the plot, shallow characters, and dismal tone (nor do Blythe's skillful, but often disturbing pencil illustrations). There's simply too much of bad people doing bad things to not-as-bad people to appeal to a wide audience. More horror than fantasy, this grim adventure may leave readers yearning for a happier ending. Ages 10–up. (Aug.)