Friday, May 31, 2013

Splendors and Glooms

A wonderfully Dickensian read, this book tells the story of three vastly dissimilar children. Parsefall and Lizzie Rose are orphans, who work for the master puppeteer Grisini. Clara Wintermute comes from an affluent family, but a sad one, as her mother is constantly in mourning for her three siblings who perished from a sickness. The one bright spot at her birthday celebration is the puppet show performed by Grisini, Parsefall, and Lizzie Rose. But when Clara goes missing the next morning, Grisini (not without cause) is blamed for her disappearance, and he flees, leaving Parsefall and Lizzie Rose alone in London. When a mysterious letter appears, including fare to a remote house in the country, the two children elect to chance the journey. With them, they bring a puppet that looks suspiciously like Clara Wintermute...

Each character seems to hold true to the historical context, while demonstrating their own purpose. While Clara finds the puppet show to be captivating, she is repulsed by the dirtiness of the puppeteers, as would a girl of her social class at this time. As she gets to know the two children who work the puppets, she grows fond of both, to the point where she is willing to risk her life for them. Similarly, Lizzie Rose is an orphan, but had a loving relationship with her parents, so she works hard to maintain what they taught her, while Pasefall has no memory of his parents whatsover and so is willing to do whatever it takes to survive. As the three children are manipulated by the old woman who owns the manor house where they stay in the country as she tries to trick them into removing her curse and instead transferring it to themselves, the old woman finds their bond hard to break, as they work to protect each other.

This book is reminiscent of gems such as Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Midnight is A Place. It incorporates a grim Dickensian tradition with magic, both dark and light. It's both delighting and dramatic, with all the fun of a puppet show.

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