Monday, September 10, 2012

tara recommends Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

I did not know anything about this book before I read it, other than the fact that is was written by Laura Amy Schlitz and that I loved The Night Fairy.  The cover art was intriguing and the title was unique and mysterious. I was pretty excited to dive into the story.

The prologue set up a dark story that promised love, magic, control and pain.  The rest of the book delivered all of those things.  It is reminiscent of a Grimm’s fairy tale with dark magic and wicked adults abusing children – almost a blend of Hansel and Gretel and Pinocchio mixed in with her own unique story. 

This story is expertly crafted and the characters are developed exceedingly well.  Lizzie Rose is a poor starving orphan who will steadfastly hold on to her manners and integrity, Parsefall is a small, malnourished and abused orphan who has been molded into a thief and has the natural talents of a puppeteer, and Clara is a rich, slightly spoiled, but very lonely little girl who craves love.  If you mix in a crippled witch and a cruel and selfish puppeteer guardian, you can see where this story may lead.

You have two orphans who are oppressed and used as slaves by Grisini (the master puppeteer) and then the plot thickens when Clara disappears after having them perform a puppet show at her birthday party.  The police suspect Grisini has kidnapped Clara, but when he also disappears, Lizzie and Parsefall are afraid they will be in trouble with the law and need a place to hide.  They are drawn to a witch’s home where they need all of their willpower and cunning to escape a harrowing future.

At one point, it talks about “the splendor and glooms that haunted [Parsefall’s] mind.”  “She shared his appetite for prodigies and wonders, for a world where spangles were stars and skeletons frolicked until their bones fell apart.”  Laura Amy Schlitz has a talent for making language beautiful, and in the case of this book – also, a little dark. 

If you enjoy dark fairy tales, you should love this book.  It is an interesting, original tale that has a satisfying ending.  If there is a downside, it would be an utter lack of humor (except what comes through the quirkiness of the characters).  But, then again – perhaps that lends to the seriousness of the story.  The references to blood and magic did induce a few nightmares when I fell asleep reading one night, but that is probably just a testament to her vivid descriptions and lively characters.  She is just that good at pulling you into her reality.

In the end, the story is about love and security.  It touches on those universal themes of decency, friendship and family.  Even though I found some parts to be a little slow, the uniqueness of the fairy tale story and the beautiful language puts this is on my list of favorite books this year.

*There is one instance of swearing (b****h) that seemed unnecessary and the subject matter is probably for a more mature audience.

Splendors and Glooms
by Laura Amy Schlitz
published by Candlewick Press
August 2012
Recommended for ages 12 and up


  1. Rachael's been talking this one up to me as the book of the year. I'll be reading it shortly :)

  2. This has been at the top of my list for a while. Good to know that it is probably for me only, not my 9 year old.

  3. I love the characterization in this book. I'm recommending it for my October book group.