Book Review: The Fifth Doll by Charlie Holmberg: A Rug of a Tale

As if I haven’t offered enough visuals for people to compare certain books to or rate books by (stars, anyone? nutrition facts labels? or how about gifs?),  I offer yet another one:  full-on videos, like the one below:

What book does it describe, you ask? The Fifth Doll by Charlie N. Holmberg. And why a rug? You’ll see.

What The Fifth Doll is About

Matrona, the main character, 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. Slava owns a strange collection of painted nesting dolls—one for every villager. Through a series of accidents, Matrona discovers that each doll is connected to its villager in a very real sense, and that gives Slava the opportunity to blackmail Matrona into caring for the dolls. 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.

My Opinion of the Book

In the same way that the woman in the video carefully weaves, through a series of complicated-looking stitches, a relatively simple but beautiful rug, so does Holmberg weave a tale that is both complicated and intricate, yet artistic and wondrous. Each stitch is a detail that Matrona notices, a development in the story, an action she takes to get closer to the fifth dolls’ truths. She is compelled, both by Slava and the desire to rid herself of the spells he casts over the dolls, to unravel another “rug,” an even more complicated and much less beautiful version of the bigger one. That rug looks more like a web, and its woven with the lies and secrets that Slava has cast over Matrona and her whole village.

Indeed, when Matrona gets to the point where she’s gathered as many clues as she can and puts them all together, that’s when she’s able to see Slava’s web for what it is, and that’s when the rug of a tale that Holmberg has woven begins to unravel as well. As Matrona works to unstitch all of Slava’s handiwork, alongside her Holmberg unravels the rug to reveal a long length of incredibly beautiful fabric covered in a sophisticated print but with a feather-soft feel.

The fabric, laid out and looked at in its entirety, represents the story as well as all the backstory that came before it and the opportunities the ending represents. At the core of that story is a magic system that was so complex I feel it will take at least one more read-through for me to fully understand it. When that system started to feel too complicated for my little brain to comprehend, I comforted myself with softness of Holmberg’s style.

Take this passage, for example:

A shifting of darkness at the window caught the corner of her eye; she turned, but saw nothing in the gap between her curtains. The wood had devoured the last wisps of twilight. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she tugged the curtains completely closed. Then she blew out her candle, bathing herself in darkness, and slid it and a single match into her pocket.

There’s such a sense of place in the simple details she provides, and a subtle way of building suspense through sentence structures that reflect Matrona’s moods. At the beginning of that paragraph, she’s pensive and nervous, which is reflected in the first long sentence. But by the end, she’s purposeful and her actions compound upon themselves: she tugs the curtains, blows the candle out, then slides things into her pocket.

Lest I wax too analytical, though, go back to the video of the rug and imagine running that soft fabric through your fingers. That’s how it feels to read The Fifth Doll, or really, any one of Holmberg’s books.

The Fifth Doll releases on July 25, 2017.  I’ll be reading and reviewing Beyond by Catina Haverlock and Angela Larkin next, and doing a giveaway for a free copy of that, so stay tuned! I’m also doing another giveaway of Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth; it’ll be going until the 24th, so go enter!

I received a free ARC of The Fifth Doll that I’ll soon pass on to another blogger to review. All opinions contained herein are, of course, my own opinions.

 

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