Children's Review: Splendors and Glooms / by Madeleine

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Splendors and Glooms takes place in foggy, gritty London, where master puppeteer Gaspare Grisini enchants little Clara Wintermute with his expert puppet shows. Clara begs her mother and father to invite Grisini to her birthday party, and Grisini takes his show to her dazzling estate to perform. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, Grisini's wards and assistants, both find themselves enchanted with Clara, whom despite her extravagant lifestyle has had a childhood just as tragic as their own. It's Clara's sad existence that leads her to fall for the tricks of Grisini, who reveals himself to be a much more sinister man than Lizzie Rose and Parsefall thought possible. After Clara goes missing, the children realize that only they have the ability to help return Clara to her grieving parents, but they must flee London in order to avoid being jailed on suspicion of helping to kidnap her. They travel to an old estate where Grisini's nemesis awaits them, not knowing that they are putting themselves in even more danger, not knowing that the witch has something she desperately wants from them as well. 

Within the first chapter of reading, this book became one of my favorite children's novels that I've read in recent years. The historical element is described in so much detail and with such accuracy that it could be a great historical fiction read in addition to it's role as an enchanting fantasy. The story is quite sophisticated, both in its themes and in the language, and deals with such mature topics as orphans, hunger, misfortune, and social class. Much of the book is morbid, but the children's integrity gives hope to the reader throughout. The magic in the book is subtle in that it does not overwhelm the reality of life in London, and it plays an important role in the lives and fates of all the characters. I was held in suspense throughout much of the book, and look forward to exploring more of Ms. Schlitz's work. 

Bottom Line Rating: 5/5


  • Title: Splendors and Glooms
  • Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2012
  • Price: $7 on Amazon
  • ISBN: 0763653802
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Public Library