Sunday, 5 May 2013

Book Review: Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz

The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants. 
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. 

As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late. 

--image and description from

Splendors and Glooms is the type of book I wish I'd written. Set in Victorian England, rife with orphans and evil puppeters, mystery and magic, the story tells the tale of Clara, a rich girl whose supposedly easy life is not so easy at all, and Parsefall and Lizzie Rose, orphan apprentices to a puppeter who is more than he seems. The past of the puppeter and his connection to a witch named Cassandra and an intriguing stone called a fire opal draw the children into a web of treachery and evil magic--a web they may not escape.

While the book is not fast-paced by any means, I finished it within three days, grabbing it any chance I could get when I wasn't doing my chores or spending time with my family. The book is peppered with funny, touching moments that even out the sorrowful, eerie tone. Whether a kind constable or melodramatic landlady, the characters make this book feel as homey as a Charles Dickens novel--it makes the time period shine and come alive in the readers' minds.

The children are all superbly developed, often in surprising ways. While Parsefall and Lizzie Rose have a brother-sister relationship, it is by no means easy-going or overly affectionate. I found myself wanting to reach out and adopt these two sad children through the pages of the novel. Clara was by no means just a spoiled rich brat; she had a sadness and a story all her own, with struggles to overcome. And the names! Wintermute and Parsefall and Lizzie Rose--completely enchanting and otherworldly and absolutely WONDERFUL!

While I found this book in the Juvenile section of my local library, I think teenagers and adults alike would be charmed by this beautiful, haunting, and heartwarming tale. While it was not quite as eerie as I was expecting, it was a wonderful surprise to discover what truly lay within its covers. There were a few sprinklings of language here and there--taking the Lord's name in vain--that stop this book from being a complete five stars in my opinion, but I definitely recommend this book for those searching for something to remind them of the classics from childhood.

Four stars!