Once a Monster

A reimagining of the legend of the Minotaur

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Buy on Amazon Buy on Waterstones.com
*This page contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.
Send NetGalley books directly to your Kindle or Kindle app

To read on a Kindle or Kindle app, please add kindle@netgalley.com as an approved email address to receive files in your Amazon account. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
Also find your Kindle email address within your Amazon account, and enter it here.
Pub Date 21 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 21 Sep 2023

Talking about this book? Use #OnceaMonster #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


'Robert Dinsdale mixes history and mythology with great panache . . . Richly textured and with an appropriately labyrinthine plot, this is a book that explores the monster inside man — and vice versa. Book of the Month' Sunday Times

London, 1861: Ten-year-old Nell belongs to a crew of mudlarks who work a stretch of the Thames along the Ratcliffe Highway. An orphan since her mother died four years past, leaving Nell with only broken dreams and a pair of satin slippers in her possession, she spends her days dredging up coals, copper and pieces of iron spilled by the river barges – searching for treasure in the mud in order to appease her master, Benjamin Murdstone.

But one day, Nell discovers a body on the shore. It’s not the first corpse she’s encountered, but by far the strangest. Nearly seven feet tall, the creature has matted hair covering his legs, and on his head are the suggestion of horns. Nell’s fellow mudlarks urge her to steal his boots and rifle his pockets, but as she ventures closer the figure draws breath – and Nell is forced to make a decision which will change her life forever . . .

From the critically acclaimed author of The Toymakers comes an imaginative retelling of the legend of the Minotaur, full of myth and magic and steeped in the grime of Victorian London; perfect for lovers of historical fiction with a mythical twist such as Stone Blind and Circe.

Praise for Once A Monster:

'Imaginative mash-up of the mythical with Victorian gothic.' - The Times

'A wonderful magic trick of a story, full of very human monsters and monstrous humans. Dinsdale is a beautiful, evocative story teller. - Stuart Turton, bestselling author of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

'Robert Dinsdale mixes history and mythology with great panache . . . Richly textured and with an appropriately labyrinthine plot, this is a book that explores the monster inside man — and vice...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781529097375
PRICE £18.99 (GBP)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (EPUB)
Send to Kindle (EPUB)
Download (EPUB)

Average rating from 133 members

Featured Reviews

It definitely wasn’t what I expected - but the Dickensian setting and characters were certainly the best part. This isn’t quite a Greek retelling, it is more of a reimagining and I did enjoy the way it twisted expectations.

This one just felt a little long. There were so many perfect points to end the story, but it just kept going. For me, it was hard to keep reading at times due to how the story seemed to be overflowing with twists and turns.

It was hugely original though with characters you can’t help but love. Villains were truly dislikable, our protagonists were lovable and you wanted the best for everyone. Though I’d have preferred a slimmed down version, the core plot was amazing.

Definitely a great book worth a read!

Was this review helpful?

What a glorious combination of Greek myth meets Charles Dickens with a bit of Brothers Grimm mixed in too. I loved this book. Robert Dinsdale is a favourite author of mine. His books are like fairytales for grown ups and this did not disappoint. His stories transport me to other worlds, times and countries. Here a beast of a man, almost dead, is discovered in the Thames by a young mudlark . Instead of stealing from his body she cares for him and helps nurse him through his darkest hours. Nell, the young mudlark has distant memories of her mother, long since passed who entrusted her to the employment of Mr Murdstone and who left her a pair of ballet shoes.. An unbreakable bond is made between the two which will be tested to its utmost as the two try to make their way through a cruel and harsh world . Who is the mysterious Minos? Will Nell ever be able to rise above scavenging in the mud and waters of the river. This is head and shoulders my best read of 2023 and is my favourite book so far by this author. My thanks to Netgalley and PanMacMillan for allowing me access to this advance digital copy.

Was this review helpful?

Once A Monster seems to be a bit of a Marmite book. I loved it. It made a refreshing change to have a story based on Greek myth that was not a feminist re-telling. Instead what we have is the story of Minos brought into the 19th century (a little Dockensian but none the worse for that).

One morning Nell, a mudlark bound to Benjamin Murdstone, finds the body of a man but the body turns out to still be alive. Nell nurses Minos back to health and a bond forms between the unlikely pair. Quick to take advantage of any oddity coming from the river Murdstone works out a way of exploiting this friendship, particularly after he gets sight of the strange tattoo carved into Minos's back - a tattoo which looks like something he's seen in a book of Greek myth.

The book follows Nell's desire to become the dancer her late mother told her she could be and Minos's need to find out who he really is.

The characters of Nell and Minos are beautifully drawn and Robert Dinsdale has managed to imbue Murdstone and some of his cronies with thoroughly distasteful characteristics.

This is a tale of good v evil. Greek myth dragged through the ages in the body of a man/monster.

I enjoyed this book from start to finish. The narrative never lagged, the pace and tone were perfect. It was a joy to read. It made me angry, happy and even tearful at times (I can be a bit of a romantic). Loved it.

Highly recommended for fans of Greek myth, Dickensian style stories or just people, like me, who enjoy a thoroughly well told story.

Was this review helpful?

What a beautiful and unusual book. Dinsdale mixes mythology with life on the streets in Victorian London. Minos, a man with a past who can only come to terms with who he really is when he’s with Nell a mud lark is gradually transformed.

Was this review helpful?

"Once a Monster" by Robert Dinsdale is perhaps the most enjoyable Greek Myth reimagining that I've read. Part Oliver Twist, part Frankenstein, Dinsdale manages to bring the myth of the Minotaur to life in Victorian London. This book restores faith in humanity and demonstrates that if you show a little bit of kindness then you can tame the beast. Might even have a little tear in my eye.

Was this review helpful?

A marvel.

What an absolute privilege to read an eARC of this gorgeous book by Robert Dinsdale. Once a Monster completely exceeded my expectations. It is not entirely a myth retelling but a creative reimagining and continuation of the minotaur's story. This books is as engaging as it is enchanting written in a style that really enhances the connection to mythology and magic.

Read this if:
📖 You love greek myths
🇬🇧 Victorian London is your favourite setting
🤔You like a bit of philosophy with your fiction

Some more thoughts:

📚 Follows Nell, a young orphan girl and Minos, a man who doesn't know who he is through twists and turns as they discover their identities and dreams. It's fantastic! My slight criticism is that it dragged a bit in the middle bit the ending more than made up for it.

🙋 Minos, Nell and Murdstone (the villain) are incredibly well characterised, their motivations were all really clear and their development throughout was engaging. Secondary characters are also done really well, it feels like each of them could have their own novel to tell their full story.

📍Primarily London, 1861 but with flashbacks to Knossos etc.

🟰 This is a great book for fans of retellings like Circe but also, if you enjoyed Theatre of Marvels then you will love this!

Was this review helpful?

This was a very different retelling of the Greek myth of the Minotaur. Set around a very Dickensian London it tells of Nell a little girl who finds the body of a strange man in the mud but the body is not dead and as Nell nurses him back to health a strong bond is formed between them. The villainous Murdstone attempts to exploit Minos for his own ends and the story follows Nell and Minos as they follow their dreams.
Beautifully written, the characters leap out of the pages and I really felt that I knew these characters and was totally invested in their stories.

Was this review helpful?

A memorable read! I was entirely seduced by Robert Dinsdale’s tale spinning, the Dickensian feel and a very refreshing take on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Ive never read anything else by this author but I plan to correct that shortly! Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.

Was this review helpful?

Dickens meets Greek myth - a very creative retelling of the Minotaur myth where the Minotaur escapes and over the centuries becomes more of a man, less of a monster. The setting was well wrought as were the characters, particularly the children and their master who are straight out of Dickens, and even though at times I found myself wondering whether the story could get more over the top I didn't want to put it down, so credit to the author there!

Was this review helpful?

Nell is a riverlark, and has been for the last 4 years since her mother died and she was taken in by Benjamin Murdstone, scouring the banks of the river to find any items of value that can be sold to keep a roof over their heads and some food on the table. One morning, Nell finds the body of a man washed up on the shore. Encouraged by the other mudlarks she approaches him to look for anything if value that they can take and sell. As she reaches down, he takes a breath. The rules of the river state that she alone must make the choice, whether or to take anything valuable from him and hope it’s enough to earn them a good meal. Nell makes the choice to get him to the safety of the nearest cavern and try and nurse him back to health. It’s only then can she see his true form. The man is huge, his face not quite human, his eyes too far apart and calcified protrusions on either side of his forehead. Not only that, but against all odds the next day his wounds are fully healed and he is almost back to full strength. After one of the mudlarks betrays her to Murdstone, he becomes obsessed with the man, seeing him as a way to make his fortune and take him far away from the river, to live out his life in the lavish lifestyle he believes. Yet again, Nell makes her choice. No!
This is a beautifully told story about the power of choice and the affect it can have on a person. A wonderful tale stemming from the wonders of greek mythology, one which will keep you gripped all the way through.

Was this review helpful?

A really enchanting read. Great plot line that kept you want to go on.

Thank you to the writer, publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read and review this book.

Was this review helpful?

rating : 4.5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨

I don’t think I’m the first person to say I didn’t expect the Dickensian vibe, but it was such a nice change from my usual reads! I absolutely fell in love with Minos, that final chapter had me BAWLING.

It definitely wasn’t the usual mythology retelling that I love, but more of a reimagining. It was still AMAZING though. I do think it was a little long in parts, but with so many twists and turns I just needed to keep going! All of the characters were so richly written, especially the main characters Minos and Nell.
I also enjoyed the way it kept mirroring back to Minos’ past, especially with the original myth. The antagonists were incredibly written, with what I would say semi-redeemable qualities and showed they had a human side, but ultimately were extremely dislikable despite this! All in all this was a truly excellent read ❤️

In three words: enthralling, atmospheric, unique

📖 Book details:
Page count: 512
Setting: London, 1861
Release date: 21st Sept 2023!

Thank you to Pan Macmillan and Netgalley UK for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review is crossposted on Goodreads, Netgalley UK & my Instagram @literarlo .

Was this review helpful?

Robert Dinsdale so effortlessly combines fluid prose with wonderful storytelling that you barely notice turning the pages in his books. You are so absorbed in listening to his voice.

"Once a Monster" combines myth, history and imagination to bring us a story set in London in the 17th century when men laboured deep underground in utterly wretched conditions trying to tame London's many underground rivers. Meanwhile, young children [mudlarks], above ground, spent their days sifting through the silt and dirt on the banks of the mighty Thames.

Our story centres round Nell Harper, a 10 year old mudlark, who works for the wonderfully named Benjamin Murdstone - a septuagarian master who lives in hope that one of his mudlarks shall one day unearth a treasure.

It is Nell who discovers what she at first thinks is a huge body floating in the river. She and the other mudlarks are all ready to strip it of anything valuable when Nell detects a sign of life. It turns out she has rescued Minos - better known to us all as the Minotaur of ancient legend. Yes, Dinsdale retells the myth as if Minos had survived the attack by Theseus in the labyrinth. From this point onwards Nell's friendship with Minos brings her into terrible conflict with Murdstone who can only see Minos as a potential treasure.

Dinsdale's imagination now takes his reader on a truly mesmerising journey where we experience the best and worst of human behaviour played out against the grime and bright lights of 17th century London.

"Once a Monster" is an adult fairy tale, complete with a morality message and a happy ending. But, don't let that put you off. It is a wonderfully enjoyable read. We all need to escape reality sometimes. Highly recommended.

Was this review helpful?

Nell is a mudlark who makes a decision to save a strange looking man, who has horns, from dying. This decision changes her life. I enjoyed the novel and the character of Nell was well drawn. Thank you to netgalley and the publishers for giving me a copy of the book.

Was this review helpful?

This is not the first Dinsdale book to have a slightly magical feel about it.
The bond between Nell and Minos was heart warming.
It mixes the drudgery of child labour, and Greek myth perfectly, which you wouldn't really think possible.
Some classic characters, that bring cold dark miserable London to life.
A very enjoyable read.

Was this review helpful?

Once A Monster has a Dickensian feel, set in London in the 1860s with poor children scavenging for survival in the mud of the Thames and finding the body of a giant man washed ashore. There are elements of ancient myth mixed with the terrible conditions of London’s underbelly as the story of Minos unfolds. A slow starter, the story builds pace and holds your attention right to the end. I enjoyed this book.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you netgalley and the publishers for allowing me to read this amazing book. I absolutely loved it, the world building, the plot, the characters all so amazing and magical. I couldn't put this book down, and to say I have a 8 month old I read threw this pretty fast. Absolutely amazing. 4.5 out of 5 stars. Highly recommended to anyone and everyone

Was this review helpful?

'Once a Monster' by Robert Dinsdale is a captivating and thought-provoking novel that explores the nature of humanity and what it means to be a monster. The story is centered around a young girl named Nell, who accidentally discovers a body on the shore while mudlarking. It’s not the first corpse she’s encountered, but it certainly turns out to be the strangest.

One of the strengths of 'Once a Monster' is the way it balances the fantastical elements of the story with very real, relatable emotions and themes. The characters are complex and fully realized, and their struggles with identity, family, and love are universal. Dinsdale's prose is both elegant and accessible, making the story a pleasure to read.

Another strength of the novel is the world-building. Dinsdale has created a rich and detailed mythology that intermingles with the more realistic yet dreary representation of Victorian Britain. The way he weaves this mythology into the story adds depth and texture to the narrative - a richness that easily holds the readers attention.

Overall, 'Once a Monster' is a beautifully written and emotionally resonant novel that will appeal to readers who enjoy both fantasy and literary fiction. Dinsdale has crafted a story that is both entertaining and thought-provoking, and his characters and world-building will stay with readers long after they've finished the book.

Was this review helpful?

Greek mythology is getting tougher and harder to approach in new and interesting ways, but Dinsdale has succeeded with his breathtaking Victorian London-set retelling of the Minotaur narrative. The Greek myth of the Minotaur is charmingly reimagined in Dickens' novel Once a Monster. This is what I envision Greek mythology would look like if the Brothers Grimm wrote it. I don't believe I have ever read a novel with an intersection like this, thus the notion is unique. The fourth wall is periodically broken throughout the novel, which is written as though it were being told by a storyteller. It has the appearance of being read aloud while curled up next to a warm fire.

Was this review helpful?

An unusual and highly enjoyable book. A clever and subtle bringing together of Dickens and ancient myth:
Dickens in the presence of poor children and a Fagin like character who controls and exploits them (and even a Little Nell); and ancient myth in an imagination that the minotaur survived Theseus’ attack and lived through the millennia seeking to find out who he is.
The minotaur and Nell meet when she finds him left for dead in the Thames mud and a lasting friendship ensues.
In some degree a tortured soul, bad deeds and violence make the minotaur more or a monster; good deeds more of a man. His determination towards the latter is exemplified in the constant refrain of “No!”, but is often driven to the former.
Nell’s dream of becoming a dancer provides a delightful subplot.
The style is intriguing and the characters well drawn. The pace picks as the novel develops. Ultimately a tale of redemption.

Was this review helpful?

It’s becoming harder and harder to do something innovative and fresh with Greek mythology, but Dinsdale has managed to pull it off with his spectacular reimagining of the Minotaur myth in Victorian London.

Orphaned at a young age, Nell now spends her days as a mudlark on the Thames, searching for treasures to sell for her guardian - and villainous overseer - Murdstone. She stumbles upon a vast body in the mud - and on discovering it is still alive, chooses to nurse it back to health in a nearby cave. It is Minos - not the King of Crete, but the Minotaur himself, escaped from the labyrinth and the clutches of Theseus. The story unfolds at pace - from Nell, as an Ariadne figure, leading Minos through his feverish dreams and forgotten memories, to Minos sacrificing his freedom for Nell’s own future - and then follows the twists and turns of both characters as they struggle through their choices and fates.

This isn’t a quick and easy read, but rather a beautifully complex tale spanning centuries. Dinsdale skilfully weaves together several different stories and perspectives, and his impressive worldbuilding brings to life not just the dark and grimy world of Victorian London but also the glimpses of a more ancient time. But it is the reflections on the nature of monstrosity and heroism that really make the heart of this book, and offer an in-depth and unflinching exploration of the tragedy of the Minotaur himself.

Was this review helpful?

This was such an original take on greek mythology!
Once upon a monster is more of a reimagining than a retelling with absolutely wonderful writing! The characters, heroes and villains alike, were so well written they never felt two dimensional or even fictional.

The world was also rich in detail with a breathtaking setting. It's clear that Dinsdale KNOWS how to write characters and set the atmosphere correctly.

Overall I loved this and 100% recommend.

Was this review helpful?

This book is a retelling of the Minotaur myth meets Dickens and it's a wonderful read.

Nell, an orphan and one of Benjamin Murdstone's mudlarks in London, finds the body of a dead giant one day. When she discovers he is still breathing, the girl decides to save him and take care of him in a cave, even though he is rather furry and seems to have horns on his head.

Little does she know that she has found the Minotaur who wasn't dead when Theseus left him, but followed the thread of his halfsister Ariadne to get out of the labyrinth instead. We get his stories throughout the centuries as well as Nell's story, who dreams of being a ballet dancer one day.

The book drew me in from the start. It has a splendid pace and even if you know your myths, it offers a whole new world and perspective. I loved how all the characters were kept realistic and I could picture the minotaur in Dickensian London.

Thank you for the ARC NetGalley and MacMillan UK.

Was this review helpful?

What a fabulous take on a Greek myth. A Dickensian mixture of the Minotaur in his labyrinth along with an Oliver Twist style gang of mudlarks lead by their own Fagin, Benjamin Murdstone. Fabulously descriptive, exciting & emotional!

Was this review helpful?

Published 21 September 2023. Having loved The Toymakers by this author, and being rather partial to Greek myths, there was no way that I was going to miss the chance to read this. This is not a Greek myth retelling, this is a Greek myth reimagining. What if Theseus didn't kill the Minotaur? What if the Minotaur found his way out of the labyrinth and is in Victorian London? There is a Dickensian feel about this novel - for Fagin read Murdstone, for Fagin's little gang of child pickpockets read Murdstone's little group of mudlarks. Our story follows 10 year old Nell as, with the rest of the mudlarks, she scours the Thames looking for 'treasures' that can be sold for a meal. On this occasion she doesn't find a coin, a scrap of metal, she finds what she believes to be a body. The body of a giant of a man with misshapen features that make him appear monstrous. But this man is not dead, just badly injured and Nell makes the decision to help him - and to hide him from Murdstone. A bond develops between Nell and the man, Minos and he tells her stories, memories as he tries to find out who he is. When Murdstone does find them, he sees in Minos an opportunity to make his fortune and he also sees that he can use Nell to control the 'beast'. In this book we do not just have Minos' story as his past begins to haunt him, to leave him questioning whether he is a monster or if there is a man inside him, we also have Nell's story. Nell dreams of being a dancer - her mother was a seamstress for the ballet dancers at the Alhambra before she died and Nell became Murdstone's 'property'. I really enjoyed this, the mix of myth and Dickensian London. Murdstone is really well fleshed out villain. I did feel that, at times, the pacing slowed in the middle but the final chapters were terrific and the ending just - for me - perfect. I did struggle at little with Nell sometimes as well, a ten year old who at times seemed younger and older than her years. But Minos, I did enjoy his character, his battle to find himself as he was forever 'turning left, turning right, forever moving forward'. I also loved the ideas of the sewers under London becoming almost the tunnels of the labyrinth. This was such an original idea and at times it feels as if the author is sitting with is telling us a story - as Minos sits with Nell and tells her stories - when he breaks the fourth wall and tells us to 'follow that water' or when he talks to us and tells us to 'dredge our memories'. For me this book was a lovely mix of historical fiction and Greek myth, and a book about good and evil, nature and nurture. I look forward to seeing what he writes next.

Was this review helpful?

"Once a Monster" by Robert Dinsdale is one heck of a captivating and thought-provoking read that dives deep into what it means to be human and, well, what it's like to be a total monster. So, you've got this young gal named Nell who stumbles upon a dead body while she's out mudlarking – not her first encounter with a corpse, mind you, but this one's a real head-scratcher.

Don't expect a breezy, in-and-out kind of book here; it's more like a beautifully tangled web of a story that spans ages. Dinsdale's got this knack for weaving together different tales and points of view, and his world-building skills paint a vivid picture of not only the gritty streets of Victorian London but also these glimpses of some ancient times. But the real heart of the book lies in its deep thoughts about what makes someone a monster or a hero, and it's a no-holds-barred exploration of the Minotaur's tragic story.

Was this review helpful?

I am a Robert Dinsdale fan.. The Toymakers being one of my all time favourite books, so I do feel a bit biased towards him!

This one is a chunk of a book but I enjoyed every moment. Other than Minos, our main character is Nell - a mudlark, held nigh on captive by Mr Murdstone, forced to work and hand over everything to him, with no chance of escape until she finds Minos and decides to save his life.

It’s a long, deep, twisting tale, and takes your emotions everywhere. A lot goes on but as I said earlier, I enjoyed every moment. It’s quite a sad story!

I enjoyed it immensely, and if you enjoyed The Toymakers then you will love this too.

My thanks to Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review

Was this review helpful?

This wasn't quite the story I was expecting but after a couple of pages I was enthralled by the beautiful storytelling and the masterful prose. the descriptions brought everything to life on the page and I found myself looking forward to spending the evenings during which I read this story, finding out what Nell, Murdestone, and Minos has been up to. The writing really is exquisite and the story stayed with me long after finishing it. Whether you're a fan of Greek mythology or a lover of beautiful prose, Once a Monster is definitely a book to read at least once.

Was this review helpful?

I’ve only recently starting reading retellings but I was drawn to this by the Dickensian nature of the book. I love anything Victorian and alongside the myth of the Minotaur this sounded like a compelling read. And it was. Set in 1861 in London the main protagonist, aside from Minos, is 10 year old Nell a mudlark who spends her days trawling the mudbanks of the Thames searching for anything of value which she then has to handover to evil overseer Benjamin Murdstone, a Fagin type character. A captivating story of Human v. Monster that will have you considering just who the real monsters are. My first read by this author and what a wonderful one, I loved his writing style and the pace was for the most part perfect.

Briefly, out searching one day Nell finds a body. Tall, hirsute and dead… until she notices a breath… The decision she makes that day will change both of their lives.

I loved determined and courageous Nell. I wanted her to realise her dreams of becoming a dancer in the theatre and enjoyed her burgeoning relationship with Minos as she nursed him back to health. The story of Minos’ escape from the Labyrinth to the dark streets of Victorian London and his desire to find out if he is man or monster was powerful. I didn’t expect it to be such a tragic and heart rending read. An atmospheric book full of emotional and physical battles between Good and Evil with the question can evil ever truly be redeemed? I enjoyed this a lot, a good historical fiction and Greek mythology peppered with elements of fairy tale storytelling. 4.5⭐️

Was this review helpful?

I absolutely adored The Toymakers by the same author when I read it a few years ago. This came up on Netgalley and I applied a while ago and got accepted. I've only just got round to reading it but wanted to make sure my review was out before publication day!

Once a Monster is a retelling of the Minotaur tales of Greek folklore. Half man, half bull, the Minotaur was locked in a labyrinth by family members and spent his says trying to get out.

In this take, the Minotaur or, Minos as he's known in this tale, surfaces on the banks of the River Thames in 1861. He is discovered by a young, orphan mudlark called Nell with whom he immediately bonds. Nell is "owned" by a vile man who sends her and other minors onto the banks of the river to sift the mud and silt for treasure. When he gets wind of Minos, he becomes power hungry at what it might do for him and thus begins a battle.

I really enjoyed this, such an interesting take. Nell was fabulous, such a great character. She yearns to escape the life of poverty and become a ballet dancer and there are lots of lovely references to the dance halls of those days.

Minos had a great story line too, flashing back to his past and the real origins of the Minotaur story, alongside his struggles in this Dickensian era tale.

It's got some humour, but is generally a dark tale, the poverty-ridden London of that era being captured perfectly.

A great read and one I'll be recommending. Thanks to Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

It is such a clever read, it feels part fairytale part myth reimagining and it’s just a very good story. The way Robert Dinsdale has weaved the classical mythology so seamlessly into the setting of Victorian England is astonishing. It just works.

I really liked the character of Nell, a feisty little thing, I kept forgetting she was only 10!, and the bond she forms with Minos even though it does get used against her. Her sense of childish wonder and amazement when she finally got to the theatre was so well detailed and pure, it got me in the feels.

I forgot how much I love books set in Victorian London, the setting is a character in itself and you could really visualise the labyrinth like winding streets in the foggy mist. Victorian London always seemed to have a sense of danger and I find that so interesting, even Nell’s theatre and Sophie couldn’t keep her safe when it came to it.

Was this review helpful?

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale is one of my favourite books and I try to read it regularly, although I do admit it's been a while, so maybe a reread is due.

Generally I don't do long books and I don't do mythological retellings. With this book, Robert has given me both. And boy has he delivered. It was beautiful.

Author Essie Fox describes it as "a labyrinthine delight of a novel where a world of Dickensian darkness is infused with ancient myth". Everyone that knows me knows I love Dickens and collect many of his books, and so this instantly grabbed my attention.

I had never really fallen in love with mythological retellings. For some reason, most of the ones I have tried have felt a bit superfluous, like they were never needed. But this blows them all out of the water and shows me how, when one is this good, it is definitely required.

Every word, sentence, passage, chapter reads so perfectly seamless. It's hard to imagine he would have to wrestle with subpar drafts, and not just put down perfection straight away. His writing is gorgeous and has a hold over me that very few authors do. All I want is for Robert to teach me how to write, is that too much to ask?

For me, this fits somewhere between mythological, historical, dream and reality.

There is a tenderness I wasn't necessarily expecting from a story about a mythological - historically bad - character. I love this take on the minotaur. We've all been told stories of course, that the minotaur is a creature to be feared, and not one to be loved or respected.

There are characters a plenty, and whilst Nell is our main protagonist, my favourite has to be Mr Murdstone. He is perfectly evil. Not over the top, more like a Fagin character (going back to Dickens), and whilst he may not have been the nicest character, he was definitely the best to read. You could really get your teeth into him.

I've said it before, I rarely like books that are 500+ pages in length because they very rarely warrant being that long. But this one. Oh this one. I would have read double the page length if I could. There's never too much Dinsdale.

It's going to take a lot to knock The Toymakers off its perch, but this book just reiterates why Dinsdale is one of my favourite authors. I have put his others on my book wishlist. There's something very pure and heartfelt about his writing.

The most surprising thing of all is how moving I found it. At several moments, and particularly the end (no spoilers here) I found myself fighting back tears. Not always for sad reasons. There's just a lot of emotion in this book, a lot of stories and morals and lessons, and I thank Dinsdale for giving it to us. I will gladly read it again and again.

I know books are subjective and we all have our likes and dislikes, and I know some people will think less favourably about this, but I struggle to see how anyone couldn't see the magic weaved into these words.

Yes, it's a story about a minotaur, man vs beast, of a girl's friendship with a minotaur, but there's so much more. There's so much more. There's sadness and poverty, wishes, hopes and dreams, there's dancing and running, promises and lies, danger and death, love and madness, beauty and ugliness, heroes, villains and cowards. It is so layered - like a labyrinth itself - and you get sucked into these layers, deeper and deeper, but never really wanting to escape.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: