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.
The Fifth Doll is easily the best book I’ve read all year, which is saying a lot since it’s my 26th in 2017. It’s also probably my new favorite by Charlie N. Holberg. I really, really liked it.
The writing style is beautiful and flawless. The world comes alive with Holmberg’s graceful imagery. The characters are complex and dynamic. The structure/pacing of the novel is steady and building: either the mystery of the world, the magic of the dolls, the romantic ‘complications’ of the protagonist (sorry, no spoilers!), or the timeline itself keep the book fascinating and engrossing throughout. I couldn’t put it down, but honestly, I didn’t try. I let myself get swept away by the narrative, and I have a feeling I’m going to be thinking about this book for a long time yet to come.
I was BLOWN AWAY by how wonderfully this book is written and highlighted line after line of Holmberg’s beautiful prose. Her descriptions are gorgeous: she describes emotions, physical reactions (hearts racing/skin tingling/etc), and scenery in new and unique ways throughout the book. Here are a few examples:
“Matrona imagined her flush was made of thousands of biting ants, and the soft breeze blew them off her skin as she walked, carrying them back into the wood.”
“He was still as an oak trunk, silent as a candle.”
“Matrona’s heart retreated until it hit her spine, and she quivered with its every beat.”
“The sky began to tint pink as the sun crawled toward its wooded bed.”
“Her entire body became a heartbeat.”
“Mad Olia had a lot to say, and most of it was nonsensical, if it could be understood at all. Like bad poetry spoken underwater.”
“Jaska straightened, though his whole person seemed to wilt.”
The Fifth Doll is a five star read, and I am very stingy about my star ratings. Out of 26 books, this is my third 5-Star rating for 2017. It is a beautiful, captivating book, and I wholeheartedly recommend it!