Book Review: The Dollmakers (The Fallen Peaks, #1) by Lynn Buchanan

Book Review: The Dollmakers (The Fallen Peaks, #1) by Lynn Buchanan

This review is a copy of the transcript of my video review on The Dollmakers

ARC provided by the author’s agent in exchange for an honest review.

Cover art by Ashley Mackenzie

The Dollmakers by Lynn Buchanan

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: The Fallen Peaks (Book #1)

Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy

Pages: 400 pages (Kindle edition)

Word Count: 114,000 words

Published: 13th August 2024 by Harper Voyager

The Dollmakers is guaranteed to be a contender for one of the strongest fantasy debuts of the year 2024.

“Shean enjoyed thinking. Logic was a comfort— as long as she had a plan, she had direction, a guide to follow and mull over and think and rethink until she’d thought of every possible outcome to every possible event.”

When I read The Silverblood Promise by James Logan near the end of last year, despite how much I loved it, I felt unsure at immediately declaring it as the best fantasy debut of 2024. I have no doubt it will be one of the best fantasy debuts of 2024, but the absolute favorite debut of the year? That remains to be seen because of books like The Dollmakers by Lynn Buchanan and other favorable candidates. But since I saw the concept artworks and read the premise behind The Dollmakers, I was interested instantly. The beautiful cover art by Ashley Mackenzie sealed that deal even more. It helps that the author is a big fan of Fullmetal Alchemist like I am, and unconsciously or not, I believe the love toward Fullmetal Alchemist is partly reflected in the novel as well. I will get around to that later. But before I begin my review, some of you might know about The Dollmakers from me, and you might have heard me calling this one a standalone novel. I got this notion from the official blurb listed on the Amazon page by the publisher. And I have to say, although there is no cliffhanger and the book has a satisfying ending, The Dollmakers is not a one-off standalone novel. There will be more books, or direct sequels, in the series, which I think will be titled The Fallen Peaks. Regardless of whether The Dollmakers is a standalone or not, Buchanan has delivered a well-polished and unputdownable narrative with a cast of characters with distinct voices.

Picture: Shean & Silver by Deandra Scicluna

So what’s The Dollmakers about? The Dollmakers takes place in a world centered around destructive and all-consuming monsters, and mostly, the artisans in charge of creating magical dolls designed to fight this force.

In the country called One, dollmakers are vital members of the community. An artisan’s doll is the height of society’s accomplishments, and a Guard’s doll is the only thing standing between the people of One and the Shod: vicious, cobbled monstrosities that will tear apart any structure, living or dead. One of the main characters, apprentice Shean of Pearl, is a brilliant dollmaker. With her clever dolls, she intends to outsmart and destroy the Shod once and for all—a destiny she’s worked her whole life toward accomplishing. But when the time comes for her dolls to be licensed, she’s told by Licensor Matock that her dolls are too beautiful and delicate to fight. A statement that wounds her confidence and infuriates her; the Shod killed everyone she loved. How could her fate be anything but fighting them?

To help her see a new path for herself, Shean’s mentor, Nock, sends her on a journey to the remote village called Web, urging her to glean some wisdom from Ikiisa, a reclusive and well-respected guard dollmaker. Shean will have to convince the citizens of Web of her talents and the Licensor Guild to reconsider and grant her a guard’s license. By any possible means. Even if it is done through the dirty act of deliberately cheating, scheming, and lying.

“I wanted to be a dollmaker because a dollmaker saved me. I wanted to be like my hero. I wanted to save people, just like I was saved…

The Dollmakers is a coming-of-age story with themes of ambition, revenge, letting go, dreams, and artistry done right. However, to experience the fulfillment of the narrative, Buchanan requires her readers to be patient with one of the main characters: Shean. To put it simply, for more than half of the book, Shean is an extremely arrogant, hot-headed, selfish, childish, infuriating, and unbearable character. Do not expect to fall in love with Shean quickly. The most fitting character comparison to Shean (in my opinion) is Rin from The Poppy War trilogy. Now… now… I get it. I know what you’re thinking. Some of you might be put off by this. Rin from The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang is a super polarizing character with her uncontrollable—intentionally—personality that gets wilder with each book in the trilogy. Every reader will have different levels of patience, criteria, and connectivity with the characters of every book. I don’t need to like the main character to categorize them as well-written. Some might need it. In my opinion, when an author succeeds at making the character achieve their storytelling vision, there is a good chance I might consider that a well-written character. But it matters a lot that characters need to fit their personality, background, and nature. Development shouldn’t feel out of place. And I am sure Shean is intentionally written to make readers angry at her first. If you, like me, were pissed at her and you wanted Shean to be humbled badly, then Buchanan has executed her job. And here’s the thing… You can rest assured that, unlike Rin, and despite how insufferable Shean was throughout the first half of The Dollmakers, Shean gradually transformed into a better person. Her character arc from an anti-hero with zero sense of empathy into what she became at the latter stage of the book was rewarding if you read through the 114,000 words long book.

“And if there is one thing I’ve learned from dollmaking, it’s that you can’t control the impact your dolls will have on the world around them— when I was young, my own master encouraged me to yearn for neither a guard license nor that of an artisan. Of course I had childish hopes and dreams, wishes. But I did my best to heed her advice, and by the time I was given my license I was neither particularly relieved nor disappointed by the result.”

But for those of you readers who are worried about reading unlikable main characters for a relatively long time, fortunately The Dollmakers is not singularly told from the perspective of Shean. Even though the book contains no chapters at all, which is a rare reading experience for me, the pacing flows continuously and smoothly regardless. It proved to be a challenge for me to put down the book. Buchanan nailed the pacing incredibly well. And not to a small degree, the compelling qualities of the narrative are owed to the distinct small cast of characters. So yes, The Dollmakers is a multiple POV narrated novel. There are plenty of supporting characters, which you can tell from the beginning portions, taking the role of the POV character even if only briefly compared to Shean and one of the other main characters: Ikiisa. For me, Ikiisa is a genuinely relatable and likable character. She, too, has her own nightmares and struggles to deal with. And Ikiisa, unlike Shean, is an anti-social, anxious, and compassionate Dollmaker. Honestly, I did not feel too sad for Shean because she behaved awfully for more than 200 pages, but Ikiisa is a different story. I seriously felt saddened for her, Bobble, and her many unnamed dolls. They have dealt with so much, and Shean is not making Ikiisa’s life easier. The dynamic, contrast, and development between the two main characters are integral to the storyline; they are a big reason for enhancing my investment in the story.

Picture: Ikiisa by Deandra Scicluna

As you can probably tell, I am a fan of character-driven stories, and The Dollmakers (in addition to a unique and well-established world-building) definitely counts as one. The two main characters aside, we also have Dola, Licensor Matock, Nock, Marble, and the mysterious Roque as brief POV characters. And guess what? Every single one of them was captivating to read. Above everything else, Buchanan excels at writing characters and characterizations. For example, Marble, one of Shean’s dolls, has only ONE POV sequence within the entire book, and I felt emotionally invested in the intelligence and fate of the character already. It IS one of the best moments in The Dollmakers. And that is saying a lot. My initial worry about the book containing only chapter breaks is unfounded. This format ends up being an extra amplifier for the tight storytelling. It was so effortless for me to differentiate which character’s mind I was reading from, and although this is a debut novel, Buchanan’s prose felt so professional and polished.

“Master Coen told me once that the most dangerous part of the Shod’s existence is how they occupy people’s minds, driving out good thoughts with bad, frightened ones. Toy dolls distract from the darkness; they fill peoples’ lives with beauty and companionship.”

As I said, the publisher marketed The Dollmakers as a standalone novel, but in reality, it is undoubtedly the first installment in a series. And it is written like one. I have no idea whether there will be a direct sequel to The Dollmakers, or maybe the series will turn into a series of standalone novels, but from my analysis, it would be odd to not read the next title from the perspective of Shean, Ikiisa, or Roque again. As the first volume, I think the world-building has enough foundation for the next books to build upon. The history of the dollmakers, the Shod, the role of the dolls, and the Breath Mark. The potential is there, for sure. By the way, coincidence or not, Breath Mark reminded me of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The Breath Mark is meant to bring dolls to life. Slightly reminiscent of what Edward Elric did for his brother, Alphonse Elric, and I loved it for that. But back to my point. There are still a lot of unexplored prospects in the world-building and character’s background. As it stands, the world and scope in The Dollmakers still feel relatively small, and hopefully, this will be magnified more in the sequel.

Picture: Roque by Nina Vakueva (Inkpangur)

Lastly, before I conclude this review, I want to set one more expectation right, too. The Dollmakers is not an action-oriented novel. More often than not, this is a plus for me. There is one big superbly-written action sequence well-placed near the end of the book reminiscent of Sanderson’s Sanderlanche, but the vibe of the world, engaging dialogues, and characters extensively drive the narrative. And it all eventually led to a satisfying ending. So yeah, even though The Dollmakers ended satisfyingly with no cliffhanger, I am 99% confident there will be more books or sequels in the series. It is not a one-off standalone novel.

“There comes a time when all other voices must be blocked from your mind, a time when you must turn inward and ask yourself who you are, what you want, and how you can best achieve those goals. No one can do that for you. I should’ve told you that years ago.”

To wrap this up, I think The Dollmakers will be one of the finest fantasy debuts of the year. The bond between mentor and their apprentice is one of the most prominent elements of The Dollmakers. And on that note, some readers might know about Lynn Buchanan from some of Sanderson’s videos on YouTube. Similar to Brian McClellan, the author behind the Powder Mage series, Buchanan is one of Sanderson’s students who landed a major deal with traditional publishers. And this is not a sign that The Dollmakers is similar to Sanderson’s books. Not at all. But the small and impactful lines delivered in the passages reminded me of reading the magnificent parts of Sanderson’s Cosmere books. This is only the beginning of Buchanan’s bright career. It is an exciting novel, and as far as a debut goes, I liked The Dollmakers much more than Elantris by Sanderson. With a vibrant and intriguing world where humans and dolls must work together, infused with compelling pacing and distinguishable voices of the main characters, The Dollmakers will make readers lose sleep over reading it. Will this become my number 1 favorite debut of the year? It’s still too soon to tell; there are still a few more promising fantasy debuts I want to read before the end of the year. However, The Dollmakers will unquestionably earn a spot in my list of favorite books of 2024.

“I was raised to believe I could do anything I set my mind to, even if that ‘doing’ included perceived failures and the discovery that I do not, in fact, possess every talent known to mankind. ‘Doing’ doesn’t always mean succeeding. But the only true failure is never trying in the first place.”—Lynn Buchanan

You can pre-order this book from: Amazon | Blackwells (Free International shipping)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

I also have a Booktube channel

Special thanks to my Patrons on Patreon for giving me extra support towards my passion for reading and reviewing!

My Patrons: Alfred, Aliysa, Allana, Ambrosius, Andrew, Andrew W, Annabeth, Arliss, Barbara, Bev, Biskit, Cade, Chris, Christopher, Cullen, Dan, David, Donuts, Dylan, Edward, Elaine, Elias, Feanor, Francesca, Frank, Garrick, Gary, Gregory, Hamad, Helen, Jenn, Jesse, Joie, Jonathan, Jordan, Katrina, Kristina, Lara, Lourdes, Luis, Melinda, Michael, Michael, Mike, Miracle, Mordie, Nicholas, Norbert, Radiah, RCT, Redmischief, Samuel, Sarah, Sarah, Scott, Shawn, Steph, Stephanie, Tiffany, Tracy, Trish, TS, Wendy, Wick, Woodman, Xero, Yosi, Yuri, Zoe.

View all my reviews

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *