4 stars. The sooty side of Victorian England comes to life with a creepy, magical twist in Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. Three children are caught up in the machinations of the sorceress Cassandra and her one-time paramour Grisini who betrayed her. Schlitz slowly unwinds the tale; many will find it slow but I enjoyed the richness of setting and character that this allowed.
The real power of this book is in its characters. The depth of the relationship between Cassandra and Grisini gives both horror and poignancy. Clara becomes the emotional crux, caught between grief and the desire to live. The characters pay homage to Dickensian archetypes; dextrous young thief Parsefall would clearly find kinship with the Artful Dodger and Lizzie Rose is the ideal Victorian heroine.
The plot twists and turns, not necessarily unexpectedly, giving moments of action, drama, and horror. Splendors and Glooms is a “read and think” book more than a “cover to cover” book, and it rewards those who immerse themselves in its pages.