The Fifth Doll
by Charlie N. Holmberg
Review by Mel Jacob
47North Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781477806104
Date: 25 July 2017 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Set in 1917 Russia, The Fifth Doll offers a fantasy tale set in a small idyllic village where the sun always shines and no disasters happen. Then, Matrona, a young woman, is gifted by the village tradesman and her life forever changes whether for good or ill.
Strange yearnings fill Matrona, the village dairymaid as she plies her trade on the family farm making cheese and butter, caring for the cows, and tending to her chores. When she was a child, a young sister was born but vanished after three days never to be found. Her parents are demanding and have found a match for Matrona. The word love is never mentioned.
One day she finds a silver paintbrush near the home of the Tradesman Slava the only person to travel beyond the village. She attempts to return it and the man shows her his collection of dolls, one for each person in the village.
Slava tells her she is destined to take his place as the dolls' caretaker. He makes her open the fist of the nesting dolls with her face. Suddenly, every person in the village knows her hidden thoughts. The only woman who had opened all the dolls representing her had gone mad. Matrona fears what the other nested dolls might reveal.
Holmberg reveals the story as a series of revelations or awareness as the dolls are opened. She manages to cram a woman's yearning for love and for truth into a tale of magic or sorcery and the all too human desire to protect those we love. The story is reminiscent of Brigadoon (Germelshausen) and other such tales of town or places protected from change with a hint of horror. Holmberg is the author of the popular Paper Magician series.