2012 Newberry Honor book Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz was my latest endeavour for school. After reading about Schlitz’s book in the School Library Journal during my practicum, I had it on my mind as something I wanted to get my hands on. The story tells of orphans Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, charges of the evil (and often described as Dickensian) puppet master Professor Grisini. Parsefall loves working with the fantoccini (marionettes) and is incredibly talented. Lizzie Rose on the other hand misses her recently deceased actor parents and hasn’t learned yet just how awful Grisini is. When wealthy Clara falls in love with the fantoccinis and the orphans who work them, she insists on having Grisini and his charges entertain at her twelfth birthday. Later that night, Clara mysteriously disappears and see after Lizzie Rose and Parsefall find themselves thrown into the mystery of her disappearance and Grisini’s soon afterwards.
While this story develops, the reader becomes familiar with the witch Cassandra. Cassandra and Grisini are linked, if only through her magical phoenix stone. Cassandra and Grisini’s story begin to merge, bringing Grisini, and in turn his orphan charges, to Cassandra’s mansion in Windermere. Did I mention that the story takes place in 1860 London? Clara, who’s been turned into a puppet (something the orphans don’t really seem to bat an eye at), comes along with them. And from there, things get complicated.
The writing of this novel was beautiful. The descriptions of the setting are full of rich detail and the characters are all wonderfully developed. That being said, too much is going on. The story of just one of the characters would be more than enough. And don’t get me started on the end- everything is wrapped up in a few pages, and although it is neatly done, everything is too easy. The novel is recommended for grades 4-8, and I doubt that any child who’s read Harry Potter (and the children who read Splendors and Glooms will definitely have) would be even remotely satisfied.
Overall, I was disappointed by the story. While I think that some readers would be taken into the world Schlitz created, there are other stories that do this in a more satisfying way. Sorry, Newberry, but I can’t get behind this one.