Weird. That is the only way I can describe Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. As far as children’s fiction books go, this is rather dark, and the story is confusing. The story bounces back and forth between different character’s and perspectives, and the real focus of the story does not become clear until much later in the book. (About ½ way through the book you finally figure out what happened to Clara, and ¾ of the way through the book you finally realize how all these characters relate to one another.)
The synopsis of the story makes it sound like the focus is discovering what happened to Clara, however, in truth, her disappearance is only a small part of the bigger picture. Perhaps a better synopsis would be:
An old curse, two enemies, and the lives of three unhappy children collide in this tale of magic and greed set in London in the 1800s. Cassandra, a witch who will stop at nothing to dispel her curse, and Grisini, a master puppeteer with a desire for power and money, care little for the lives they must take and the happiness they will destroy in their quest for freedom and power. Caught in between are three children – Clara Wintermute, Lizzie Rose, and Parsefall – each being viewed as a tool – a puppet – for Cassandra and Grisini to achieve their desires. Life was hard for the children, and thanks to Cassandra and Grisini, it just became harder.
The story though, is not without merit. The children, even Parsefall who is the most “hardened” of the children, are examples of selflessness and courage. Lizzie Rose in particular is a good example of compassion, showing mercy and kindness even to those who hurt and mistreat her. The story also has an interesting way of dealing with each character’s grief and helping them find the peace and healing they very much need.