Splendors and Glooms

Laura Amy Schlitz turns from the airy Medieval town of her Newbery Medal–winning Good Masters, Sweet Ladies to a hauntingly claustrophobic tale set in an 1860 London enveloped in thick fog and a dilapidated estate in England's lake district.

The author entwines the fates of a 70-year-old witch named Cassandra; a girl named Clara Wintermute, who's the only surviving child of a rich physician and his wife; and the wizard Grisini, who doubles as a gifted puppeteer. Grisini keeps his two orphaned assistants, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, on a string as tight as those of his extraordinary marionettes. Clara catches sight of Grisini's puppet show in Hyde Park and decides that this should be the entertainment at her 12th birthday party. Schlitz weaves together the individual chapters, which move smoothly among the third-person viewpoints of each character, into an edge-of-your-seat tale. Young Lizzie Rose is the first to suspect Grisini after Clara Wintermute disappears the night of her birthday party, and the police come to search Grisini's flat. But Parsefall, who's spent more years under Grisini's influence, knows the evils of which the man is capable and tells Lizzie Rose to keep mum--though he, too, thinks Grisini may have engineered Clara's disappearance.

As the author unravels the mystery, she explores the many levels on which the characters themselves serve as puppets. Schlitz proves herself a master storyteller as she skillfully maneuvers the strings of this gothic tale right up to the astonishing climax. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

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