Great Illustrated Books

Splendors and Glooms

Candlewick Press, 2012
Pages : 400
Suggested Ages: 10 and up
ISBN: 9780763653804

Justice, redemption and salvation all come into play in this gripping mix of gothic horror and historical fantasy.

In a Dickensian London made eerie by evil and magic, two orphans, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, live with the puppeteer Grisini. Their lives are grim enough when they make a sinister discovery: their master has cast a spell on Clara, a wealthy girl, turning her into a puppet in a kidnapping scheme. The orphans are determined to save Clara but worry they cannot protect themselves from a similar fate. With trepidation, they confront Grisini in a horrific yet comic scene and are astonished when he subsequently disappears. Their relief is temporary. Survival without Grisini is almost impossible despite the “generosity” of their drunk, eccentric landlady, and they are no closer to releasing Clara. So when Lizzie finds a letter from a mysterious woman called Madama promising riches if the children visit her in Italy, they fall for the ploy and carry Clara with them.

Once there, they learn that Grisini’s story -- and now theirs -- is intertwined with Madama’s. Madama is a bitter old witch who is being burned alive by a jewel that grants her supernatural powers. In the past, Grisini tried to steal the jewel from Madama and failed. Now she commands him to try again, this time using the children to perpetrate the theft.

Readers will be held spellbound by suspense, wondering whether or not the children will uncover the nefarious plot before caving to a temptation that may well mean eternal damnation. At different points, they will live and breathe in the skin of each of the characters including Clara, whose perspective as a puppet is disturbingly narrow and claustrophobic. With its well-described settings and palpable fear, the story tears towards its surprising conclusion, as readers learn much about human nature at its worst and best.

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Reviewed by : JMcD


If you love this book, then try:

Applegate, Katherine. The One and Only Ivan. HarperCollins, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0061992254.

Oliver, Lauren. The Spindlers. HarperCollins, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0061978081.

Stead, Rebecca. Liar and Spy. Wendy Lamb Book, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0385737432

Critics have said

Newbery Medalist Schlitz delivers many pleasures���fully dimensional children, period details so ripe one can nearly smell them, and droll humor that leavens a few scenes of true horror. A highly original tale about children caught in a harrowing world of magic and misdeeds.

A brooding Dickensian novel with a touch of fantasy and a glimmer of hope. . . Vividly portrayed and complex, the characters are well defined individuals whose separate strands of story are colorful and compelling. Schlitz weaves them into an intricate tapestry that is as mysterious and timeless as a fairy tale.

Two orphans, a witch and a girl who laughs at death: Each shares the lens of protagonist in Newbery-winner Schlitz��s fully satisfying gothic novel...Schlitz��s prose is perfect in every stitch, and readers will savor each word.
Kirkus Reviews


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. . . .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.
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