by Laura Amy Schlitz
400 pages of eerie delight and gruesome mystery
Splendors and Glooms is a creepy, captivating story; dark and light at once. Gaspare Grisini, is a devilishly evil puppeteer who owns two children that do his bidding and work: Lizzie Rose, noble and true and Parsefall, a talented scamp. They perform marionette shows around the streets of Victorian London, an “icy stew of mud and straw, horse manure and urine.”
It is at one of these shows that their paths cross with Clara Wintermute, the daughter of a well to do doctor. Clara’ life, though blessed, is far from happy. Her four siblings have all died of cholera and she bares the secret shame of surviving. Secrets and lies, combined with magic and morbid cruelty unite the children in a fight for survival and a desire to live with honest care and love.
The final part of the story develops through the tale of the dying witch, Cassandra. She has drawn her lasting power from the fire opal that is now consuming her very life. As she tries to save herself she calls them all from the city. Grisini, Lizzie Rose, Parsefall and the magic that surrounds, consumes and saves them. Spells are woven and broken as the children discover only they can undo the folly and malevolence placed on earth by the blinding greed of adults.
This book makes my skin crawl. The image rich language brings history to life – every bit of it; the feel, the sound, the smell. Poverty is here, desperate and raw – in striking contrast between those with warm food and gifts and parties. Those with
means and those without is strongly is a vivid image in this book for me. That children can be bought and sold because there is no one to care for them, and then once bought, there is no public eye to their continuing care and well-being makes me wonder. Have times changed all that much?
Read Splendors and Glooms for its unique story, its incredible language, it’s vivid look into history and lingering images that stay with you long after you are done reading. Will you be inspired to learn more, to take action and to recognize the need to kindnesses in our lives no matter how small?