Splendors and GloomsFall 2012 Fiction
Clara Wintermute, living in a house thick with the memories of her dead brothers and sisters, has few real pleasures. At the beginning of Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, Clara is eagerly anticipating the puppet show she is to see for her twelfth birthday party-and the tea party she is to have with the two ragged children who help run the show. Soon afterward, however, Clara disappears, and the two children and their master, Gaspare Grisini, come under suspicion. But then Grisini disappears too. As they try to make a living without him, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, Grisini's wards, begin to learn about other disappeared children and discover where (and what) Clara really is. In the meantime, Grisini, in the company of a tortured witch whose powers are killing her, conspires to lure the children away from London to a terrible fate.
This is a wonderfully spooky tale that fully utilizes every creepy aspect of Victorian culture-uncanny marionette puppetry, protracted mourning rituals, and fabulously decorated and isolated estates, not to mention the Dickensian depictions of the fate of orphans in London. This fast-paced novel is packed with appeal for young readers, from supernatural mystery and adventure to a lavish historical setting to a series of beautifully complex and sympathetic characters. My one cavil is that lower-class and foreign characters (namely, the Italian Grisini) are unnecessarily stereotyped as having terrible personal hygiene. In all other respects, however, this novel will be a delight for young readers; certainly, it was for me.