Debut novelist Elizabeth Macneal sets The Doll Factory in Victorian England, with the backdrop of both the Great Exhibition of 1851 and an artistic revolution led by the self-dubbed Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Iris, a striking and talented would-be painter who is trapped by circumstance, connects the two worlds. She wastes her talents by crafting dolls in the window of a little store, on display side by side with her pox-scarred sister.
One of the artists in the PBR becomes determined to paint Iris, bewitched by her unusual looks and, soon, her talent. Another man, Silas, is obsessed with displaying his taxidermy skills at the Great Exhibition and adding Iris to his “private collection....”