So, this book, Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, has a bit for everyone. A witch, orphan children, a con man, a kidnapping, dogs and magic.
First we meet the witch, who is in agony because of a stone, a fire opal to be exact. It is the source of most of her power but it has also been draining away her life for years. She decides that she must get rid of the stone, but she is unable to destroy it herself. The stone will burn her ultimately, but how can she get rid of it?
Parsefall and Lizzie Rose are two children who are living with a man named Grisini in London in 1860. He is a masterful puppeteer. Parsefall is very good with the puppets as well, and has been with Grisini ever since Grisini took him from the work house at a young age. Lizzie Rose has only been with the small group for a little over a year, ever since her parents died. While Grisini provides a roof over the orphans heads’ and some food from time to time, not much else is given to Lizzie Rose and Parsefall.
Enter Clara, a young girl who is tormented by the ghosts of her four dead siblings and by a mother who can’t let the dead siblings go long enough to be thankful for the one she still has left, and a father who is just trying to make the best of his life. Clara’s family is a wealthy one, and she begs for her 12th birthday for Grisini to bring his puppet show to her house.
It is this puppet show that puts into motion events that reach all the way up to the witch in her tower in Northern England.
Splendors and Glooms is a magnificent book, filled with intrigue, mystery, unscrupulous people and stand up ones. Just when you aren’t sure where it will take you, it all makes sense.
Highly recommended for grades 7 and up. Fine for 6th graders, but should be a good reader.