Having read the Paper Magician series by this author, I was enticed to buy the rest of Holmberg’s books on a train journey home from London when an offer popped up on my Instagram feed saying that they were all 50% off on Amazon until the end of the night. It may have been train-based delirium, but I decided to buy all her books at once.
But I think I made a good decision. Having loved the Paper Magician so much, I was a little worried that they may have been one-offs like some authors I’ve read who have one really great series and then never quite live up to it with their others. I was wrong about Holmberg, I was enticed from the first page to the last, and I loved the lead character of Matrona.
A strong woman, feeling trapped by her parents and about to enter into a marriage with a man who doesn’t even seem to notice her, she finds herself drawn into this strange world of Russian dolls created by a mysterious man named Slava. He tells her he needs to pass down the secrets of the dolls to her so that there is someone to carry on when he is gone.
But Matrona is shocked to find that the dolls all represent one of the villagers, and when things happen to the dolls, things happen in real life too. Slava wants her to open her doll, and things start happening that Matrona can’t control.
I was on tenterhooks as I approached the last few chapters, I just wasn’t sure that Matrona was making the right decisions and because I was so enthralled with the story, the peril felt so real. I’ve never read a story like this so far, so I just had nothing to gauge it on, no idea whether we’d get a happy ending or not.
The only thing that stopped me from giving this book 5 stars is that I felt like the world-building could have been a bit stronger. I was completely enthralled by the story, but I had a hard time picturing the location, and I would have loved to have felt like I could put myself in Matrona’s place. Russia is a great setting for a book, but I wasn’t quite transported there unfortunately.
But the fact that I read this book in two sittings shows my true feelings really. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump recently, and books like this make me remember why I love reading so much.