It is 1850 and Iris Whittle works at shop that sells custom made dolls, painting their faces and making their clothes. The work is routine drudgery and she longs for something more. She longs to paint on canvas. But then she meets Louis Frost, a young Pre-Raphaelite painter. He wants her for a model, and she wants him to teach her how to paint, so they strike a bargain and she leaves her life of dollmaking behind. Louis is a kind and generous man and Iris is in her element… but there is someone else who wants her, someone whose obsession is growing daily: Silas, the taxidermist who introduced her to Louis. Iris is unknowingly part of his life plans and they are not normal plans. She becomes an object to these two men - in different ways, yes, but is Louis’ male gaze any less dangerous than the obsessive focus Silas places on her? And what will these men do to make her their own?
The Doll Factory is a richly detailed, gothic delight. Yet it’s also the story of a Victorian woman trying to bring her artistic vision to fruition in a society that made it nearly impossible for women to do so. If you like neo-Victorian books or novels like The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton or the The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, you will like The Doll Factory this month. - Anbolyn (Sunset)