Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: Splendors and Glooms - Laura Amy Schlitz

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fantasy, mystery
Published on August 28, 2012
Published by Candlewick Press
Pages: 384
Read From: 11.5.12 - 11.10.12

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 home. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with his caravan, puppets, and 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 she vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls on the puppeteer. 
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.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? A definite yes. It is completely creepy in a good way, and absolutely fits the story’s gloominess. Thumbs up to the cover artist.

Characters: Clara is a pretty typical young rich girl who always gets her way, except she doesn’t act spoilt. I felt great pity for her. Lizzie Rose is the older-sister type - proper and nurturing, setting aside her own wants and needs for the wants and needs of others. For all of his rudeness, I loved Parsefall. He clearly had a fear-bite reaction. Kindness puzzled him; he didn’t trust it, so he retaliated with selfishness. Mrs. Pinchbeck is worthy of Charles Dickens - she was an absolute riot. Despite her rather small part, she was the most memorable character out of them all. Grisini is genuinely frightening, and I felt extreme pity for Cassandra - a bitter old woman who hated herself, and therefore hated everyone else, especially anyone who claimed they liked her.

The Romance: There isn’t any!

Plot: Take out the witches and wizards, and you have the skeleton of a Dickensian novel. Which is pretty much saying that I loved it. The story begins with a lot of mysteries, and the majority of them are solved long before the end. Despite that, I didn’t feel disappointed at any particular moment. The plot was still very engaging, and I greatly wondered how the children were going to get themselves out of their sticky wicket. I loved the dark atmosphere of the story, and that with each new revelation it got darker and darker. All of the characters are tied together neatly in the end, in a fashion that would leave my favorite Author of all time (i.e. Dickens) slightly envious.

Believability: Not really applicable.

Writing Style: While the story reminded me of a Dickens novel (minus the witches and wizards), the writing didn’t. It was very good writing, and fit the era well enough, but it had its modern flares and lacked the scathing sarcasm Dickens is so famous for. Even so, this Author’s style is good.

Content: None.

Conclusion: I liked that Clara ended up being the heroine. The climax was exciting and tied up very tidily. It didn’t feel rushed or induce a Oh, what a coincidence reaction from me. It fit and was clearly thought out. The characters that I wanted to repent did, and the villains’ deaths were very satisfying. This book was originally recommended to me by a librarian friend, and I have to extend my thanks to her for bringing it to me attention. I really enjoyed it - the era, the story, the characters, the writing. All good. This may, in fact, be a new favorite.

Recommended Audience: Guy-and-girl read, any age, fans of Dickensian-like stories, but don’t mind a dash of magic to the mix.

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