The Dollmaker's Daughter
Since I’m a fan of the Colonial Williamsburg living-history museum in Virginia, I picked up The Dollmaker’s Daughter, intrigued by the Williamsburg setting and a story set in 1776 that has more to do with a young woman’s search for adventure and a scientist hero, than with fighting the War of Independence. Although not styled as such, this book is connected to another of the author’s works – The Shopkeeper’s Widow – through character relationships. I looked forward to reading a new-to-me author writing about an era I know well. Unfortunately, the novel did not meet my expectations.
After twenty-five years as the sheltered daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, Amity Archer longs to write an adventure book from experience instead of from her imaginings. Without her father’s knowledge, she sets out toward her aunt Clementine’s home in Williamsburg, VA with only her maid as a companion. She makes it to a familiar inn outside of the town, feeling quite proud of her accomplishment although uneasy about the rough men carousing in the tavern. When Simon Morgan arrives, Amity tries to avoid her brother’s best friend. He could ruin her little escapade if he spies her and steps in to offer protection.
Simon has arrived from Norfolk with the smell of the burning city still on his clothes and in his memory. He reflects on his best friend’s recent wedding and on his feelings for Amity, a woman he greatly admires but whom, as she is his friend’s sister, he considers off limits. At the inn, he shares a table with a man who shows him a beautiful green stone that just might be the famed Horeb stone, said to bring the stone’s possessor great power.
The plot winds its way through three storylines: Amity’s experiences, which help her mature in her outlook on life, Simon’s search for the truth of the stone that seems to warm at his touch, and the friends-to-lovers trope with Simon and Amity finding love together. God plays an important role in the characters’ lives as they rely on His plans, and the possibility arises that the green stone may be one of a pair described vaguely in the Bible as a way to communicate with the Almighty. My favorite character is Amity’s Aunt Clementine, a widow with a mind of her own and a worthy mentor to her inexperienced young niece. I also enjoyed the cooperation between Simon and Amity’s father behind the scenes to make sure that she is protected from the dangers she cannot yet conceive.
However, a number of choices made by the author interrupted my reading. In a problem I call ‘talking heads’, I often lost track of who was speaking due to a combination of weak character voices and lack of dialogue tags. Unclear transitions within a scene or between scenes are common and led to confusion about the topic being discussed or how the involved character made a particular mental leap. Point of view drifted among characters, hindering the reader’s ability to connect emotionally with any individual in the scene. I was particularly disappointed in Simon’s characterization. I wanted to see more of the man of science, perhaps something of his own experiments in electricity. In this story, the author told me about his interest, but I didn’t feel his passion as strongly as I could have. Finally, I really don’t understand who the “dollmaker” mentioned in the title is, or to what the word refers.
As I said at the beginning, the premise is good, and the storyline about the mysterious stone is intriguing in both historical and Biblical contexts. However, the overall crafting of The Dollmaker’s Daughter left much to be desired, and I cannot give the book my full endorsement.