Splendors and Glooms

Written by Laura Amy Schlitz
Review by Kathryn Johnson

The title of this upper-middle-grade novel derives from Percy Shelley’s poem “Adonais”: “And others came … Desires and Adorations, / Winged Persuasions and veiled Destinies, / Splendours and Glooms…” That alone should tip off the reader that this story will have a definite literary flavor and sophistication that is likely to appeal to the particularly precocious young reader. Schlitz’s writing style has been called Dickensian, and it seems to comfortably fit that label – a flattering one in many ways, because the prose does all of the wonderful things for which we love Charles Dickens. The scenes are richly drawn; we can imagine ourselves on gritty Victorian streets, set upon by villains with frightening intent. Readers will enjoy sorting out the innocent from the evil.

We meet Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, two orphaned assistants to the master puppeteer Grisini. When a show is arranged for Clara, child of a wealthy doctor, the orphans can’t help envying her warm, safe life. But they are unaware of the dark secrets and grieving that shadows the young girl. It’s Clara’s disappearance that shakes up their world. Suddenly the pair are suspected of being involved in her kidnapping; they must find Clara, which means leaving London. But along the way they become caught up in an ancient rivalry between Grisini, with his criminal past, and the witch that is his nemesis. A challenging novel for some young readers, but one to be cherished by others.