Laura Amy Schlitz’s new book Splendors and Glooms is eerily – and appropriately – titled. While I found it wonderful and mesmerizing, I also found it a little disturbing, and even stopped reading for a while to let my nerves settle and to decide if I would ultimately finish the book (I did – and I’m so glad!).
The book centers on three young children – orphans Lizzie and Parsefall, and the wealthy and precious Clara – bound in more ways than one to two reasonably despicable people – master puppeteer Grisini and the dying witch Cassandra. Schlitz’s greatest strength in storytelling is the complex development of her characters; it was the same thing I loved about her first novel, A Drowned Maiden’s Hair (click for my review). None of the characters (even the “good” ones) are without their flaws, and you find yourself alternately liking and disliking them. This makes dialogue and relationships seem more realistic, and I become wholly invested in each person.
Schlitz also creates a vivid sense of time and place in Splendors and Glooms. Victorian London comes alive through the street grime and city fog and the differences between classes (in speech, behavior, and dress). Even more intimate places like a stately manor, crowded apartment, or a witch’s tower get the full descriptive treatment. It is so easy to see, hear, and feel the world Schlitz has created here.
Schlitz also has a way of writing about magic that makes it both commonplace and spine-tingling. It’s not hard to suspend disbelief with the events in Splendors and Glooms, because the author shows no apology or pause. The only thing I did wonder in this book is why? Why did some parts have to be so cruel, so dark? I felt on edge in several scenes, and still hold a little bit of a grudge about my heart being so tied up in knots.
Ultimately, though, I highly recommend reading Splendors and Glooms. It is deep, complex, robust, and the characters are fabulous and the story is original and compelling.
One note: Splendors and Glooms is marketed as Middle Grade fiction, meaning for grades 4-8. My feeling is that a reader of that age would need to be comfortable with darker themes and more complex writing – Schlitz has been compared to Dickens, and this book reminds me of the original Grimm stories. But adult readers shouldn’t be put of by the mention of this as “children’s literature” – there is more than enough meat here to make it a satisfying read for adults, too!
*Disclosure: Affiliate links included.