In the winter of 1686, the 18-year-old Petronella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam, the new wife of the wealthy, charismatic merchant Johannes Brandt – a man who she barely knows. Greeted only by his frosty sister Marin, it’s not the best of starts, and it gets progressively stranger as her new husband avoids consummating their marriage and presents her instead with an extravagant gift – a miniature replica of their own cloistered, controlled home.
Humiliated, she appeals to a miniaturist to furnish it. But as the parcels start arriving: the exquisite mini items somehow begin to mimic and foretell the events unfolding in the house. Secrets are starting to reveal themselves and betrayals are bringing danger. Nella starts to become increasingly obsessed with the cryptic miniaturist, uncertain if they are a prophet, guide or spy.
It’s a compelling premise for Burton’s debut novel, and she handles it with confidence. Her backdrop of a Calvinist Amsterdam is simply a fascinating place of contradictions, a trading city full of hypocritical priests, where greed and puritanism sit uneasily together. Even Marin, a vision of piety who sneers at Nella’s love of marzipan because sugar "makes people’s souls sick", badgers her brother to sell it and scoffs candied walnuts on the sly.