Pinocchio but Darker: The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice – A Blog Tour Review

Puppetmaster's Apprentice (2020)I have given The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice by Lisa DeSelm a ☆☆☆☆ rating. It is a standalone. It is Young Adult Fantasy and a Retelling. Page Street Publishing publishes it. It was published October 13, 2020.

The blurb reads:

“Listen well. Soon, the blue moon, the rarest of all moons will be on the rise. At its waxing offer up one of your creations and by moonlight they will be given breath. Choose wisely who to awaken.”

With her puppet-maker father imprisoned and the land of Tavia on the brink of war, Pirouette does not have a choice other than to follow the ruler’s whims. But when he discovers her secret – that she was once a puppet brought to life by the magic of the blue moon—he demands that Pirouette create an assassin out of wood and then make it come alive.

Fighting against forbidden magic and racing against the rise of the next blue moon, Pirouette cannot help but wonder, if she is making a masterpiece…or a monster. And if she is making a monster, what does that make her?

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Hi, book friends! Today, I’m bringing you a blog tour review for The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice, hosted by Caffeine Book Tours. It’s my first time with Caffeine Book Tours and unfortunately, I’ve already made a bad first impression by accidentally missing my posting date. It was supposed to be yesterday, October 13th, but I had marked it on my calendar as October 14th. Has this ever happened to you? I am thoroughly embarrassed and ashamed. But anyway, onwards! 


The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice: Pinocchio but Darker

Haunting, dark and a little sinister, The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice is a genderbent Pinocchio, minus all the Disney trappings and finishings, and woven with an original twist on the fairytale involving a blue moon. Despite how captivating of a read it was, one element truly frustrated me: the unnecessary and unrealistic romance.

The Puppetmaster's Apprentice Banner

Having previously read a couple of Page Street Publishing’s books and being severely underwhelmed with their offerings, I was not confident going into this one. And, truth be told, almost pulled out of the book tour because I did not want to rate another book lower than three stars. Again! But, The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice truly surprised me with how good it was. In the most clichéd of descriptions, I could not put it down!

Plot: Filled with Mystery, Dark Magic and Friendship

Like all fairytales, The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice opens in a “once upon a time” style with Gephardt, our protagonist’s father, meeting an old woman who bestows him with a piece of blue moon magic after he shows her some kindness. From that magic, Gephardt turns a wooden puppet into a living girl named, Pirouette. And so, our story takes off.

We are quickly introduced to Pirouette, the cast of characters and the main conflict of the story. Pirouette and her father are makers of Tavia; craftsmen, in other words, and so are the rest of her friends. The town ruler, the Margrave, has made a ridiculous demand from Piro and Gep for his ailing son.  He has a non-stop order for life-sized wooden toy soldiers to be completed in an obscenely short amount of time. But when Gep is imprisoned for failing to meet an order, Piro is forced to take his place and complete the order to free her father.

However, the more orders she takes on for the Margrave, the more sinister and unreasonable the requests become. All the while, tensions are mounting between Tavia and their neighbours. Soon, Piro finds that there is more to the Margrave’s requests than meets the eye as he reveals that he knows Piro’s secret all along. And, he wants her to make him a wooden bride and bring her to life.

The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice is a completely new and rather exciting take on the Pinocchio fairytale filled with mystery, dark magic and friendship. Although, instead of her nose growing long, Piro has a rather cruel and wicked punishment: large and painful splinters emerge from her skin every time she tells a lie. However, as exciting as this new take on the plot was, it was severely weighed down by the romance plot which lent nothing of value to the story (see WRITING section for more!). In fact, I deliberately left out any mentions of romance in the summary above and the story still felt whole.

Characters: Fun Motley Crew of Personalities

And that’s because The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice has a beautiful cast of fascinating and colourful characters. Piro didn’t need a love interest because she has so many friends willing to lend a hand. I am surprised by how much I actually loved each and everyone of them, except for the Margrave and his ridiculous demands, of course.

There was a lot about Piro that I could resonate with, from her love and devotion to her father as well as her skills with crafting wooden puppets. Despite being born from a puppet, Piro is surprisingly well-versed about the well which speaks volumes about how Gep raised her and adds depth to her characterisation. While she can be unnecessarily dramatic at times, Piro is resourceful, kind, caring and warm-hearted. She’s the best kind of main character; she is almost too perfect but in a good kind of way.

Here is a brief but non-exhaustive list of my favourite characters you will meet in The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice. I guarantee, you will fall in love with them as well:

  • Bran: Piro’s love interest and the dressmaker’s son. Bran is both insanely kind and selfless, almost self-sacrificial in his love for Piro. Which made him quite irritating if it weren’t for the fact that the book gave him a rather solid personality
  • Emmitt: Illegitimate son of the Margrave and resident clockmaker of Tavia; warm, funny and wants nothing to do with his heritage
  • Nanette: Resident ceramic artist, implied to be an Asian woman. She is strong-willed and brave; she also has something for Fonso but is constantly annoyed by him
  • Fonso: Resident glass smith, huge flirt and absolutely in love with Nan. He has a huge heart.
  • Tiffin: Not the most ingenious name for a metal smith. He is the silent yet strong type, able to work with the most delicate of crafts.

With such a motley crew of characters, it is a little disappointing that we didn’t get to see more of them. I was hoping to see more of them working together as a team but, my hopes were dashed. Mostly because The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice was told from a first person point of view.

And perhaps, it is this point of view that affected the worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding: A Beautiful World that Lacks Details

While we are sufficiently introduced to the world of Pirouette and Tavia, a lot of it lacks details that while not inherently important to the worldbuilding, would make for a more complete and satisfying read. For example, we are introduced to the concept of the makers, who are essentially all the craftsmen in Tavia. It is implied that makers are held to a different standard in society, almost revered. But, we don’t really learn what makes them so important and why they hold a unique position in society.

Furthermore, part of The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice relies on there being political tension between Tavia and its neighbouring countries involving the Margrave’s siblings and their constituents. However, not much is explained and explored about this, leaving the political plotline a little hollow and meaningless despite it’s implied importance to the Margrave’s actions.

In fact, the entire story in focused in Tavia and the woods surrounding it where Piro and Gep collect their puppet-making wood from. And where Gep meets the old woman.

It does make me wonder if the entire romance plot line had been removed, if it would make way for more solid worldbuilding.

Writing & Storytelling: Frustrating Romance, Stellar Retelling

Bran and Piro’s relationship lent nothing of value to the storytelling. Take it out of the equation and the story would still flow and perhaps, be even better as it relies on the friendships and trust that she has built with the townsfolk despite her origins. It would have been a stronger emotional bond that would lend more weight to all the characters’ personalities. This almost feels like The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice was written with all friendships and the powers that be felt that a romance would have sold better.

Bran’s presence in Piro’s life is neither threatened nor harmed nor endangered throughout the plot; Piro is not even driven by her love for him in her actions: only for her father. And, there is absolutely no tension between them. Bran and Piro’s relationship status also seems to cycle between dating and boyfriend-girlfriend. I cannot really pinpoint where they are in the relationship which made their romance feel hollow. I would have rather that they remain as best friends (which they are!) or more tension to be written in.

But, that said, as a retelling, The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice really wowed me with how they took Pinocchio which was already dark in its own right and made it darker. There are implications of mental illness here and that might be a trigger warning for some, even though it is not outright mentioned. I love how the blue fairy was written as the blue moon and that Pirouette could speak to the trees. I also liked how Pinocchio turning into a real boy was written here. In fact, when I first started reading the book, I wasn’t aware it was a Pinocchio retelling but I identified so many elements of Pinocchio that were original yet paid homage to the source material.


In conclusion, The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice was worth every minute of my time and caught my attention from the first page. Not many books can do that these days! With a selfless main character, a colourful bunch of supporting characters, an original plot, excellent retelling elements and one frustrating romance, The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice was one of the best books I have read in a really long time.

Thank you to Caffeine Book Tours and the publisher for providing me with an review copy for the blog tour.

about the author

Author (Lisa DeSelm)Lisa DeSelm lives happily with her husband and two daughters in the wilds of suburban South Bend, Indiana. When she is not writing, you will find Lisa working as an art director and designer, most likely daydreaming with a cup of tea in hand. The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice is her first novel.

Website | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter

tour schedule

Check out the other tour stops on the official Caffeine Books Tour tour schedule for more awesome content for The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice. And, we are also giving away hardback copies of The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice so click here for the Rafflecopter

Prize: Three (3) hardback editions of The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice:

  • Open to the United States (US)
  • Ends on 18 October 2020 (Philippine time)

3 thoughts on “Pinocchio but Darker: The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice – A Blog Tour Review

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