SCHLITZ, Laura Amy. Splendors and Glooms. 384p. Candlewick. Aug. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5380-4; ebook $17.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6246-2.
Gr 4-8–Victorian London could be a magical place: horse-drawn carriages, puppet shows, elaborate upper-class houses. Of course it could also be miserable: fog, filthy streets, shabby hovels where too many people live in too few rooms. Schlitz conjures both the magic and the mundane here. For Clara’s 12th birthday, her parents hire a street performer to give a puppet show in their home. The puppeteer, Grisini, is so talented that he appears to be magical. His two orphaned assistants, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, are envious of Clara’s home and all its comforts. Clara vanishes the night of the puppet show, and Grisini and his assistants are the prime suspects. Then Grisini disappears, and Lizzie Rose and Parsefall must seek out the missing girl, with the sinister and mysterious help of a wealthy old witch. Schlitz uses such evocative language that readers will practically smell dirty London and then be relieved by the crisp, cold air in the countryside around the witch’s crumbling mansion. The characters are recognizable tropes: the witch is rotting from the inside out; the orphans may be dirty and ill-bred, but they have spirit and pluck; the little rich girl is actually sad and lonely; the skinny puppeteer and the overly dramatic landlady are recognizably Dickensian. Yet, they are so well drawn that they are never caricatures, but people whom readers will cheer for, be terrified of, or grow to like. The plot is rich with supernatural and incredibly suspenseful elements. Fans of mystery, magic, and historical fiction will all relish this novel.–Geri Diorio, Ridgefield Library, CT