Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* A brooding, Dickensian novel with a touch of fantasy and a glimmer of hope, Schlitz's latest opens in London in 1860, when lonely Clara, the only remaining child in a doctor's grief-stricken household, attempts to celebrate her twelfth birthday. Grisini the puppet master is engaged to perform, along with the two orphaned children, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, who serve as his assistants. Clara bridges the class divide to befriend the children. After kidnapping Clara for ransom, cruel Grisini disappears, leaving Lizzie Rose and Parsefall struggling to survive on their own. They make their way to the country house of a bewitched woman whose magical amulet gives her amazing powers while draining away her humanity. There they learn certain grisly secrets involving their cruel master, Clara's fate, and the wealthy witch, who seeks to control them all. The magic of the storytelling here lies in the subtle depiction of menacing evil. After working its way insidiously through the characters' lives, it is defeated by the children, who grow in strength and understanding throughout the novel. 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. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Schlitz's Newbery Medal winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village (2007) earned her a wide following, and librarians will be eager to see what she's up to next. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, two Victorian waifs living under the guardianship of crook/magician/puppeteer Grisini, cross paths with cosseted Clara. This meeting results in a kidnapping, the magical imprisonment of Clara in puppet form, and encounters with aging witch Cassandra. Schlitz takes the conventions of melodrama and fleshes them out with toothsome scene setting and surprising, original character details.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, two Victorian waifs living under the guardianship of Grisini, a Fagin-like crook, magician, and puppeteer, cross paths with Clara, the cosseted only child of a London doctor. This meeting results in a kidnapping, the magical imprisonment of Clara in puppet form, and encounters with an aging witch, Cassandra; the whole plot of the book hinges on the curse of a fire opal. In this not-quite-parody novel Schlitz takes the conventions of melodrama and fleshes them out with toothsome scene setting (she's especially good on smells, gothic architectural touches, and the minutiae of Victorian death conventions) and surprising, original character details. The two heroes are fine foils for each other, the Victorian-good Lizzie Rose versus the street-pragmatic Parsefall. Grisini, with his back story in Venice, is pure moustache-twirling evil, and Cassandra is an intriguing portrait of bitter, regretful old age and bone-deep malevolence. The language is rich and lively, and Schlitz, exhibiting the delicate control of a puppeteer of words, even pulls off comic cockney: "But with your daughter, sir, there isn't any homnibus, and when there's no homnibus, there's 'ope." sarah ellis

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Anyone who thinks marionettes are creepy will have that opinion reinforced by this dark tale about three children at the mercy of an unscrupulous puppeteer and the witch who pulls his strings. Clara Wintermute asks her father, a wealthy doctor in 1860 London, to hire Professor Grisini and his Venetian Fantoccini to entertain guests at her 12th birthday party. Clara is stagestruck by the puppets and taken with one of Grisini's two assistants, the pretty, well-mannered orphan Lizzie Rose (the other assistant, Parsefall, is an urchin straight out of a Dickensian workhouse). After the puppet show, Clara disappears. Grisini is suspected, but he, too, vanishes. The fate of the three children becomes intertwined with Grisini's old flame, the witch Cassandra Sagredo. It's a fairly complicated plot, and although the pacing occasionally lags, Newbery Medalist Schlitz (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!) 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. Ages 9–13. Agent: Stephen Barbara, Foundry Literary + Media. (Aug.)

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School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 4–8—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. For Clara's 12th birthday, her parents hire a street performer to give a puppet show in their home. The puppeteer, Grisini, is so talented that he appears to be magical. His two orphaned assistants, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, are envious of Clara's home and all its comforts. Clara vanishes the night of the puppet show, and Grisini and his assistants are the prime suspects. Then Grisini disappears, and Lizzie Rose and Parsefall must seek out the missing girl, with the sinister and mysterious help of a wealthy old witch. 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.—Geri Diorio, Ridgefield Library, CT

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Voice of Youth Advocates Reviews

Newbery Medal winner Schlitz has written yet another exquisitely crafted tale with Splendors and Glooms.  A viciously vengeful witch, a devious puppeteer, two orphans, and an unwitting young heiress become entwined in a complex tale of greed, evil-versus-innocence, and hope in this Victorian, gothic tale of suspense.  Orphans Lizzie Rose and Parsefall have been, both literally and figuratively, taken in by master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini.  Though Grisini appears, at first, to be somewhat kind to his two charges, his scheme to use the children for his own greedy purpose slowly becomes apparent.   The kidnapping of wealthy heiress, Clara Wintermute, provides yet another victim for Grisini to use in his plot to retrieve the all-consuming phoenix stone from witch Cassandra. Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, the children prevail, Grisini receives his due, and the witch, Cassandra, finally can rest in peace after she finds some goodness at her core.  The ending is a bit neat and tidy, yet fulfilling, after the immense struggles the three young characters have faced.  Although the Victorian England setting may be off-putting to some readers, with prodding, they will appreciate Schlitz's edge-of-your-seat thriller.—Donna MillerIn Splendors and Glooms, three children fall into a world of dark magic and close-kept secrets. They all soon learn that to survive they must depend on each other. Schultz creates an intriguing plot that keeps readers craving to know more as unexpected events take place over and over again. Throughout the story, in a world not very different from our own, readers begin to wonder who is pulling the strings in life. 4Q, 3P.—Rayanne Patterson, Teen Reviewer 5Q 3P M J Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.