Book: The Fifth Doll
Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
The bestselling author of The Paper Magician Series transports readers to a darkly whimsical world where strange magic threatens a quiet village that only a courageous woman can save.
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 think it’s safe to say I’ve solidified myself as a Charlie N. Holmberg fan. This is the fourth book I’ve read by her this year, as I eagerly await the release of Siege & Sacrifice. And like the others, this one was pretty great!
The Fifth Doll follows Matrona in her day to day life in a small village. She’s very much about maintaining the status quo while looking forward to her life as the wife of the village butcher. Still, though she very much follows the rules of her society, something inside her yearns for more. Matrona knows her duties, though, and fights the impulses that threaten to lead her astray. At least, until she no longer can.
She stumbles upon that ‘more’ by mistake one day when the village tradesman – a man revered by all – decides to leave his legacy to her. It’s a mystery that slowly unfurls for the reader as it unfurls for Matrona, and that’s part of why this book was so fun to read. Matrona’s confusion becomes the reader’s, too. As she learns more about her world and the magic that ties everyone together, she grows into a fierce, independent woman that hardly resembles the girl from the start of the story.
Of all the books I’ve read by Holmberg so far, I think this one has my favorite protagonist. Matrona starts the story as someone who just keeps her head down and lets others make all the decisions. And while I understand that her environment didn’t exactly nurture rebellion, it was still something I wanted to see her grow from. I was happy to see her take her fate into her own hands and tackle the problems head-on when she realized that the fate of the people around her rested on her shoulders. She manages to stand up to the most powerful man she knows and is pretty fearless as she does.
I don’t want to spoil too much, so I’ll just say this for the plot: The mystery was pretty good and refreshingly different. I haven’t read a book that surprised me in a while, and this one managed to do it.
My only complaint is that the book was pretty slow in some parts, and I found myself stepping away from it fairly often. But once I got past a certain point, it was an easy-going read with a very satisfying ending.