As you can probably see, I’ve mixed up the format a bit! Who really cares about all that information at the top, anyway? I did leave the publication info where it was, though, but I might change that, too, in the future. There’s now a link where you can buy the books I review at the bottom, as well. I’ll be experimenting with this new format for the next couple of posts until I get it where I like it, so expect it to shift around a bit.
Splendors and Glooms is written by Laura Amy Schlitz. It was published in 2012 by Candlewick. It is a Newbery Honor book. Schlitz’s Goodreads profile can be found here.
What I Liked:
This book was…interesting. And strange. I picked it out because it was a Newbery Honor, and those tend to be pretty good. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I liked it, but I didn’t like it. I can see why it’s a Newbery; as far as technique, it has a tight plot, nice writing, good pace, etc. One outcome is very obvious, but other than that, there really aren’t any flaws so far as technique goes.
Clara stole the show, in my opinion. Reading about anyone else, except for maybe Lizzie Rose, was just not as good. She had the most growth and the most depth and was simply much more interesting than Lizzie Rose or Parsefall. She also had the most flaws, which made her less perfect, which made her better than the other characters. Essentially, she’s the balance between Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. In addition, she also did most of the action in terms of dealing with Cassandra and the fire opal. I probably would have disliked this book a lot more if her role were less, or if she had been a different character. As it was, Clara brought this book up to a “meh” status. Like I said, I liked it, but I didn’t like it.
Cassandra was an interesting villain. She didn’t really do much except suffer, and obviously Grisini was supposed to be the Evil, while she was just the Gray Villain Who Has Redemptive Qualities. Schlitz’s attempt at redeeming her was…interesting. I say “attempt” because I didn’t really buy it or like it. But I guess Schlitz didn’t want two completely evil villains, so she did something different with Cassandra. At least she branched out and did different things with her characters.
What I Didn’t Like:
The book was good, but it wasn’t very enjoyable, at least not for me, and enjoyment is a big factor in whether or not I like a book. I can enjoy a book that’s not very well-written, and so I expect to enjoy a well-written book even more. I don’t like it when well-written books don’t have that enjoyment factor.
I can’t even really explain why I didn’t like this book. It just…didn’t grab me. The beginning was okay, the middle dragged, and the end was slightly better. Lizzie Rose was too perfect and Parsefall was too rebellious; it’s obvious that they were meant to be foils and that Clara is the one who bridges the gap between them. Nothing was really all that memorable. Cassandra was also slightly creepy and not nearly as big of a villain as she was made out to be. Grisini wasn’t even all that menacing since he wasn’t present all that often.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Young Adult
“The master puppeteer Gaspare Grisini is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her home. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with his caravan, puppets, and two orphaned assistants.
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack: adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt and secrets. When she vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls on the puppeteer.
As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late.”
Something glistened on the stair landing. Clara caught sight of it as she climbed the last three steps; something that shone against the dull carpet like a miniature sun. She bent down and picked it up.
It was a gold watch. Clara had never seen a watch quite like it. The dial was no larger than her thumbnail; it seemed to represent the full moon. Around it was a night sky made of black enamel, with two figures set against it: a golden wolf and a silver swan. The swan was suspended in midair, its wings outstretched. The wolf’s jaws gaped, its teeth as thin as needles.
Clara’s head jerked up. The puppet master Grisini stood in the doorway of the drawing room. She had seen him leave a quarter of an hour ago.
“You come apropos.” He swept off his hat and bowed. “I want your eyes, Miss Wintermute—your keen, bright eyes. Come and help me!”
“That night in Venice,” she said, “you said unless. You told me that the stone would consume me unless. What did that mean?”
He felt too ill to speak. He knew that blood was soaking through the bandages on his head.
“Answer me! The fire will consume me unless. Unless what?”
“Unless the fire opal is stolen.”
Hope dawned on her face. It was swiftly replaced by mistrust. “You tried to steal it, but you couldn’t.”
“I was not a child.”
Technique-wise, Splendors and Glooms is very strong. With a few exceptions, the plot is nicely done and the writing is excellent, and I can see why it got its Newbery Honor. However, the book wasn’t very compelling, and it wasn’t enjoyable, not for me. Clara was the one bright spot in an otherwise middling book.
You can buy this book here: Splendors and Glooms
Coming Up Next: The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman