Thursday, January 10, 2013

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz

This book is simply fabulous. How do I count the ways? Splendors and Glooms is set in 19th-century London, and I can see the fog, feel the hunger, hear the accents. The setting is rich (London streets are "an icy stew of mud and straw, horse manure, and urine"); the writing leaves me wanting to linger over every sentence. It's a long book, and the pace not especially fast, but I was immersed -- in for the long haul.

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.

19 comments:

Andrea Mack said...

Thank you for your interesting review! I haven't read this one but it sounds unique so I'm going to look for it.

Vijaya said...

I've been waiting for this from the library forever and just may have to treat myself ... By the way, I do think the best books are for all ages. LAS has got to be one of my favorite writers. My kids too, have enjoyed her books tremendously.

Faith E. Hough said...

I loved loved loved this book, too...absolutely one of the best I have ever read. As a historical fiction writer, it's the new standard I'm striving for.
And I also found the "adult MG" feel interesting. To me, it showed that YA is a bit of a genre in itself, rather than a age to which books are marketed. There was nothing YA about this book, yet there was no lack of complicated language, plotting, themes and older characters. It's my new "Oh, so you think children's books aren't real literature?" example. :)

Marcia said...

Andrea -- It IS unique. I think you need both the status and the talent of somebody like LAS to first, dare to do this; second, pull it off; and third, get it published.

Vijaya -- Yes, some of the best books are for all ages. And it's good, then, that those are rare. For only a few can be the best.

Faith -- I agree with using such wonderful books as our standards. The higher we reach, the higher we grasp. I agree with your genre/age observation about YA!

cleemckenzie said...

I kind of like a touch of gore in MG. It give the story sort of a Brothers Grimm edge. Hansel and Gretel stuffing the witch in the oven always terrified and delighted me when I was a kid.

p.s. Your grammar issues are up on The Write Game today. Thanks for asking about both of them.

Barbara Watson said...

Oh my! This sounds lovely and complicated and unique. I'm adding it to my to-read list.

Mirka Breen said...

The England that was... Bring back Dickens. The book sound amazing.

Janet said...

Very interesting. I guess if you write good enough, you can break the rules. I love historical fiction.

Bish Denham said...

Wow! This sounds fantastic!

Marcia said...

Lee -- Yay for Her Grammarness! Yes, I think a bit of gore in this sort of setting is very classic.

Barbara -- This is one of those books that either only an established author can get away with, or that you imagine writing "just for myself so I can do it any way I want." It's so good that it transcends the fact that "you can't do this in MG."

Mirka -- I'm so fascinated with England, but very glad I didn't have to live in their time! Even having been born Clara Wintermute would have its sorrows.

Janet -- I think that's true, but I also think it doesn't hurt at all that this was LAS.

Bish -- I think it was a strong year all the way around. It'll be so interesting to see what gets the awards this year -- and what doesn't because there simply are so many.

Emily R. King said...

Thanks for the rec! I added it to my Goodreads TBR list.

I hope you are doing well, Marcia!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Thanks for the great review, Marcia. I doesn't sound like something my kids will like. My daughter is too young for it, and the boys have different tastes (which I can never figure out).

Rena and Denny said...

Sounds really interesting. I'll definitely be on the lookout.

Anonymous said...
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Marcia said...

Emily -- Thanks, Emily. And you as well. :)

Stina -- Definitely agree not everybody's going to be the audience here.

Rena -- Hope you like it!

Ruth Schiffmann said...

Oooo with a review like that, I have to read it!

Medeia Sharif said...

Thanks for sharing this with me. I'll read the preview on Amazon. This looks like an interesting one.

Marcia said...

Ruth -- Hope you love it!

Medeia -- You're welcome! Hope you enjoy.

Mary Witzl said...

This is exactly the sort of book I want to read (and the kind I tend to write myself, for better or for worse). Now I'm dying to read it! Thank you for another great review.