WINNER OF A 2013 NEWBERY HONOR!
Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz brings her sorcery to a Victorian gothic thriller — an enthralling, darkly comic tale that would do Dickens proud.
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.
Newbery Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz’s Victorian gothic is a rich banquet of dark comedy, scorching magic, and the brilliant and bewitching storytelling that is her trademark.
From the moment I first read the blurb of this book, heck, from the moment I first saw the cover, I knew I was going to love this book and ordered it immediately. I started it as soon as I could and instantly got swept up in the mesmerizingly beautiful tale.
It is going to be nearly impossible for me to discuss this book as whatever I say will pale in comparison to the novel itself, but I will try my best.
Splendors and Glooms lives up to its name; a story that is as dark and depressing as it is happy and uplifting. It is a story filled with sadness but also a great deal of hope. It was a slow read for me because I wanted to savour it and soak in every tiny detail no matter how insignificant.
Clara Wintermute belongs to a wealthy family who are grieving the loss of their other children. She questions how much her parents love her and witholds a terrible secret which combined, turn her from genial to withdrawn. Lizzie Rose is the kind of person that feels compelled to help everyone, good or evil. She is good and caring, much the opposite of Parsefall who is naughty and rude, but deep down is a good person. I loved all three children very much and truly enjoyed reading about them and their adventure. They each had strong personalities and were real and unique.
The adults in the story are also wonderfully developed. There is Dr. Wintermute, trying to hold his family together, Grissini who is wickedly evil, Madama who is neither good or bad but very much in between, and Mrs. Pinchbeck who has a flair for the dramatic and drinks too much. Though not all is as it appears for any of them.
I loved the creepy undertones of the story and gritty realness to it all. Lizze Rose and Parefall’s status as orphans is not glorified, neither is Clara’s wealth. Some scenes were quite horrifying but were perfectly balanced by those that make you smile.
The story reads like realistic fiction even though there is magic in it, as is not presented as something out of this world, but as something mundane. However, it is the heart of the plot. A plot that is intricate and compelling and brilliant. It keeps you turning the pages and makes it impossible to put the book down. I have never been so completely sucked into a story before that the world blurred around me and it pained me to part from the book as it had become a part of me from the very first page.
I saved the best for last – the writing. It is gorgeous and descriptive. Enthralling and smooth. It paints pictures of the streets of London, Stratchan’s Ghyll and even Venice from the past. Even the dialogue reads beautifully and the accents were perfectly matched to the characters whore bore them.
I can’t forget about the fantoccini. I loved learning about them and watching them move, for that’s what it felt like while reading – that I was there, watching. They captivated me and made me long for my own set of marionettes, or at least a show to watch.
The ending was perfect. A mix of ends being wrapped up and new stories starting that left me sitting there stunned for a few moments, a smile tugging at my lips when it was all done. And then I instantly wished to start all over again and once again experience the wonder of the story.
I hope you read this story as I know it will claim a spot in your heart like it has in mine.