The Fifth Doll is a wonderful read—a little fantasy, a little horror, a little romance… What’s not to like?
I’m embarrassed to say this book has been sitting on my Kindle for months. I received it as a Christmas gift from one of my amazing readers, but for some reason kept putting off reading it, which is silly, because I really like Charlie Holmberg’s writing. (You can check out other reviews I’ve written here and here.)
Honestly, the timing was a relief. The last several books I’ve read were either disappointing or infuriating, though touted variously as masterful, highly recommended, riveting, awesome, excellent, great, creative and imaginative, unique, Tolkienesque…
I tried to like them, I really did. But I don’t read to get angry or bored, so into the “Did Not Finish” pile they went. Given the number of books on my TBR list, I don’t feel the least bit guilty. There are better books to read. Like The Fifth Doll.
REVIEW of “The Fifth Doll”
The main character, Matrona, lives in a quaint little Russian village blessed with fairy tale vibes, including the lack of bad weather, hardship, and war. A dutiful daughter, she works hard to obey her parents and be a good person. She and her best friend are preparing for Matrona’s upcoming wedding to the very respectable butcher (even while she’s mooning over a younger man) when the unthinkable and unbelievable happens.
She finds a paintbrush by the side of the road. Endeavoring to return it to its owner, she stumbles upon a whopping secret that leads down a path of nightmare. The tale revolves around the concept of choice—masterfully.
Matrona’s options are not easy, but the reasons for her choices are riveting. Ms Holmberg adeptly foreshadows events and explanations, then leads the reader along some creative and imaginative twists and turns without shying from some dark undercurrents. And she does all that without falling into ditch of gratuitous gore, violence, or foul language.
I love that Matrona is no amazing warrior or wizard, but an ordinary girl. She’s pushed into extraordinary circumstances, but she handles them with what she’s got: intelligence and heart. No magical weapons show up to save her. In fact, no magic saves her at all—which isn’t to say there is no magic in her world. (This is a fantasy book, after all.)
The other characters are well thought out, varied, and burdened with their own troubles. The world building has a generous scoop of colorful Russian culture to perfectly set the scene. While there is plenty of detail, it doesn’t overwhelm, and the idea of the Russian nesting dolls to carry the story felt clever and unique.
My one complaint? While the ending worked, it felt a little rushed.
All in all, I can’t help but highly recommend this book!
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.
This book is for you if you:
- Enjoy well-developed, realistic characters
- Like historical fiction with a touch of fantasy
- Are looking for Flinch-Free Fantasy
This book is not for you if you:
- Are looking for sprawling epic adventure
- Don’t like even mild horror
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Have you read this book? What did you think?
What are you reading now?
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