Matrona lives in an isolated village, where her life is centered on pleasing her parents. She’s diligent in her chores and has agreed to marry a man of their choosing. But a visit to Slava, the local tradesman, threatens to upend her entire life.
Entering his empty house, Matrona discovers a strange collection of painted nesting dolls—one for every villager. Fascinated, she can’t resist the urge to open the doll with her father’s face. But when her father begins acting strangely, she realizes Slava’s dolls are much more than they seem.
When he learns what she’s done, Slava seizes the opportunity to give Matrona stewardship over the dolls—whether she wants it or not. Forced to open one of her own dolls every three days, she falls deeper into the grim power of Slava’s creations. But nothing can prepare her for the profound secret hiding inside the fifth doll.
I had high hopes for this beautifully covered sci-fi fantasy novel, however, it didn’t live up to what I was imagining it to be.
What I didn’t realise was this is apparently Young Adult book, according to Goodreads anyway. Knowing this after I read it, it makes a lot of sense in relation to my issues with the book.
I enjoyed the writing in this one, even though it was reasonably simplistic in style. The descriptions in this are vivid, it was easy to imagine the quiet and old-fashioned village the characters live in. When it comes to character conversations, some books get it really wrong and all the speech seems jilted and fake. In The Fifth Doll, however, I think the conversations were done really well, even if at times what the characters were saying seemed a little juvenile… but we’ll get onto that…
Our main character in this story is Matrona, 26-years-old and arranged to be married to a wealthy, respected member of the village. She lives as a dairymaid with her mother and father and her life revolves around her chores. That all changes when she stumbles across the local tradesman’s room full of dolls, with a doll for each person in the village. Now, this is where I get confused about the YA labelling – I thought YA books were always about young adults? 26 isn’t old, but you’re pushing it if you’re still calling yourself a young adult at that point… I’m afraid to say you’re a fully fledged adult by this point, there’s no shame in that!
Matrona definitely comes across as a lot younger than her age but you could say that’s due to her lifestyle and the way in which the village runs. Even though I can make excuses for Matrona’s immaturity, it still got on my nerves. A big plot point in this story was her impending marriage and the crush she has on a fellow 19-year-old villager (who she used to babysit, a little bit weird…). The romance in this book definitely felt like a school playground scenario and I think that’s where the YA label comes in. Even though there is mention of a marriage, the love story is actually about her first love and it’s very schoolgirl crush, a.k.a cringe!
The rest of the characters in this story weren’t anything to behold, and honestly, they all felt a little lack-lustre. I like it when you can feel the author investing themselves in their characters, but I didn’t feel that connection here.
Moving on to the actual story, I was expecting far more from the story. That’s not to say the way this one played out wasn’t interesting and clever, it was, but it was the bare minimum it could be without becoming a bad story. There was so much more that Holmberg could have done to expand the characters, the mystery behind the dolls, and even the ending. This is only a short book at 250 pages, it could have easily been stretched to 300 without making it an exhausting read.
Another issue I had with this story, which I also think points to the YA label, is that this felt much more geared towards telling us about Matrona’s romance than it did the dolls. Maybe if the lovey-dovey bits had been taken away this would have been a more enjoyable story for me. I really didn’t give a damn about if Matrona and her 19-year-old boy toy got together in the end, I wanted to know about the creepy Russian nesting dolls with everyone’s faces on!
Overall this book wasn’t bad. It did have an interesting and unique story when it came to the dolls (as per advertised) but there were too many distractions (the romance) for the story to fully flourish and blow me away. I also wasn’t a fan of the YA and adult themes mixing, but maybe that’s because I’m not a YA fan altogether. At the end of the day, there were elements of this book I did enjoy and I would happily recommend it to someone looking for an easy fantasy read, but it definitely wasn’t my favourite.
Thanks to Amazon Publishing for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.