Thursday, January 10, 2013
Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz
Clara Wintermute is a twelve-year-old lady, only surviving child of wealthy Dr. Wintermute and his grief-crazed wife, who has lost four siblings including a twin to cholera. When she sees a traveling puppet show and requests to have it perform at her birthday party, the evil puppeteer, Grisini, and his two child-helpers gain access to the Wintermute household. Lizzie Rose is the destitute orphan of famous actors, ladylike and proper (in a good way) despite her station, and Parsefall a lovable scamp talented with both the puppets and with thievery. Clara, a nice girl who is hungry for friendship, insists the two take tea with her before the show. None of the three have any idea that tonight, more than just the valuable picture frame pinched by Parsefall will disappear. Clara Wintermute will, too. And in a mixture of compassion for Clara's father, desire to break away from Grisini, concern for Clara herself, and sudden news that they are heir to wealth from a mysterious benefactor, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall leave London determined to find Clara and get the money without it falling into Grisini's clutches. Too bad their benefactor is every inch as evil as Grisini, or more, and wants to pass her life's curse to whichever of the children she can tempt, or force, to steal it.
That the characters are engaging is important for openers, but the writing -- oh, my, the writing. And the setting. And the complex plot. And the multiple POVs; more than I counted, actually. But here's the real crux of this book for me: This is a MG adult novel. Or an adult MG novel. In many chapters and passages, there are no child characters present. There is enough blood and violence to warn away the squeamish. (I'd say age 10 is the lower limit for readership, and even then I'd consider the individual child.) This book is not YA; it is MG. Yet it crosses over to adult. Yup, it jumps an entire category. It may be able to wear that elusive "all ages" designation, and I think it will surprise a lot of people who believe "you can't do that" in MG. By "you can't do that," I mainly mean feature adults and their conflicts so prominently. I'd love to know other readers' views on this.
Highly recommended, but not for an MG reader who isn't ready for a fair bit of gore, or a 400-page book with richer language and a slower pace than Harry Potter.