It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment. The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into this family business comes young Cathy Wray, running away from a shameful past. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own.

This is a difficult book to review because it’s so difficult to categorise. It’s part historical fiction, part fantasy, but it’s also a family drama, a war novel, and a horror story. While you might be thinking it would be impossible to blend all these genres together into a coherent book, Robert Dinsdale has managed to do just that.

This book is strange and magical and utterly captivating. Dinsdale has created an entire world in the Emporium, a magical store that opens on the first frost of winter every year and closes when the first snowdrop appears. Its aisles abound with toys that capture what it feels like to be a child when the world is full of wonders and the possibilities are endless. You’ll gasp at ‘instant’ trees that sprout from boxes, delight in rocking horses that transport you to fields where you can feel the wind in your hair, and marvel at toy soldiers that seem to be staring inquisitively back at you with painted eyes.

This book is full of magic. Not just the magical toys but the everyday magic that comes from being surrounded by people who love and care for you, the ordinary magic of finding hope when everything around you is falling apart.

For all its fantastical elements, this is a story very much rooted in real life. There is plenty of darkness here in amongst all the light and joy. While the Emporium seems a haven from the outside world, it isn’t long before the war raging across Europe comes to its doorstep.

It is also a story that examines the complicated knot of family bonds. Papa Jack runs the Emporium and his sons, Kasper and Emil, help to create the toys that populate its shelves. But while the two brothers are close, they are also fierce rivals, always seeking to outdo each other with their creations. And with the arrival of Cathy at the Emporium, another spanner is thrown in the works.

I was completely enthralled by this book. Even when I wasn’t reading it I found myself thinking about it, wondering what was going to happen next, and to me that is a sign of a really excellent book.