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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Publisher: Candlewick
Published: August 28, 2012
Pages: 384
Source: For Review from Candlewick/NetGalley
Rating: 5 Stars


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 birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his 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 Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall.
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. 

In short: Splendors and Glooms showcases Laura Amy Schlitz's masterful storytelling and ability to transport the reader to her fully realized setting.
Splendors and Glooms is a most apt title for this book, a Victorian Era fantasy set in dank and gloomy London featuring bewitching and splendid marionette theatre shows. Splendors and Glooms follows orphans Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, and rich girl Clara Wintermute, as they are manipulated and used by two sinister magicians caught up in an ancient feud, indeed as though they are the puppets themselves. Though it is labeled as Middle Grade, there's a very dark and disturbing undertone to this Gothic mystery that may be more suitable to a more mature readership.

Splendors and Glooms features a large cast of varied characters, all exceedingly well developed and distinct. I was so impressed at how quickly I grew so fond of the three main characters: Prim and lady-like Lizzie Rose, blunt and unabashed Parsefall, and tragic and guilt-ridden Clara - these are some of the most fully realized characters I've read this year. And it's not just the main cast of characters; the side characters are remarkably complex and interesting as well. The witch and the puppeteer Grisini and their history, especially, were fantastically fascinating additions to the story.

The most brilliant part of Splendors and Glooms though is Laura Amy Schlitz's incredible talent at transporting the reader into the setting, utterly and completely. Never have I read a book with a Victorian London setting that was so rich and masterfully described. And it was also written very much in the mode of Dickens' era literature. Laura Amy Schlitz has written a book that totally could've been an actual book in Victorian times and that is not an easy feat to accomplish. She's either a consummately skilled writer or a time traveller from Victorian London. I'm betting time traveller.

Though I think some people may find the pacing of Splendors and Glooms to be a bit slow, I personally was constantly invested in the story and the characters and was held entranced by the realistic setting and the skilful writing. And... it's a standalone, guys! With an ending that I loved, too. Splendors and Glooms will be published August 28, 2012. I highly recommend it.

23 comments :

  1. Wow, never heard of this one before Aylee, how is that possible? I don't mind a slow pace if I'm deeply invested in the characters - all Maggie's Stiefvater's books are that way for me - so I think I would really enjoy this one. Thanks so much for the recommendation!

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    1. Heh, oh it's very possible - I find I'm always coming across ones I've never heard of. I'm the same way with slow pacing - sometimes I actually prefer it!

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  2. I have a confession, after my failed attempt at Night Circus I'm afraid of another historical.
    But this does sound great.
    Thanks for the review :)

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    1. Aw, I understand. It's definitely not for everyone!

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  3. Wow, Okay, I need to read this now.
    It sounds so cool, from the set up to the characters!
    Thanks for this review.

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    1. I really want to read other people's reviews for this one because I don't know anyone else who has read it!

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  4. The Victorian London setting makes me want to give this one a try despite the slow pace. Well, that and the fact that it's a standalone. Those are so hard to come by these days.

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    1. Yup, this is one of the very, very few standalones that I've read this year! Such a shame, really.

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  5. This sounds like an incredible book! I really love it when it's a bit creepy and dark because I find them even more unsettling than in YA. Like with Neil Gaiman's children's books. I can't wait to read this.

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    1. It's true - there's something so much more chilling about creepy, gothic MG books than YA books. Not sure why. I would LOVE to read your review!

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  6. Great review! Victorian Era is very interesting but it can also be a hit or miss for me - any historical. I tend to like the slower paced that have great stories and character arcs though so I should give it a try. I don't think I've heard about this one before.

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    1. I never thought of a hist fic fan before I started blogging, myself, but I've come to really enjoy them and appreciate them. And I feel the same way about slower pacing.

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  7. I haven't seen any reviews for this one, Aylee, but if it deserves a five stars, I will be checking it out. I love historical fiction and fantasy so a slow plot - as long as it's not too slow - in order to develop the setting doesn't really bother me. The characters sound fabulous and I can definitely use more standalones. I'm either eternally behind on series or start one and then fall behind on them the next year.

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    1. Oh yay! I really love the idea that more people might be reading this one based on what I've said! I didn't mind the slow pacing at all because I really loved just being apart of the setting. And spending time with the fab characters. And yeah, who knows how many series I have going on at the moment - bleh.

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  8. I love Victorian London as a setting! So very intrigued already. Plus I really like that this book is a standalone, it means we don't have to wait ages for a sequel! :P Glad you enjoyed it - I hadn't heard of it before but I definitely want to give it a go now. Great review!

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    1. Victorian London is one of my faves, definitely. And it's so nice to read standalones because they are definitely in the minority among all the series that I need to keep track of.

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  9. This sounds like just my kind of thing! I love Victorian style writing, creepy puppets, and clever stories that don't center around love triangles! Great review.

    C.J.
    Sarcasm&Lemons

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    1. Heh, yeah it's definitely not your everyday YA/MG read. Very unique - definitely no love triangles.

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    2. What? A YA/MG read ABSENT of a love triangle? I think I've fallen in love.....

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  10. You had me sold at "two sinister magicians caught up in an ancient feud" - sinister magicians, feuds...can't go wrong with that. And it has nicely developed characters + setting? Ah, it sounds incredible!

    Thanks for bringing this book to my attention, Aylee! Lovely review :)

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    1. Heh, yeah I really loved the premise. It really brought the puppet concept together, which is brilliant. One of the best written books I've read this year!

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  11. This one sounds really good. I'm glad you enjoyed the characters and felt they were well developed and explored. The only iffy point is the pacing, but in a story like this one, it probably doesn't matter. I think you sold me on this one! Plus if I remember correctly, I do think this ones out at my digital library. Sounds like I should read this sooner than later. Nice Review!

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