I liked this book far more than the cover and title made me think I would. (The title comes from an old Percy Shelley poem, which is not my forte, and the cover is downright creepy.) I grabbed it simply because it took Newbery honors last year, and when it comes to the Newbery award, I have more hits than misses. This one was a definite hit.
This is a difficult book to summarize. There is much more going on and much deeper characterization than I can explain in a paragraph. So I’m going to do something I rarely do—cheat. (It’s okay, I have an excuse. I’m camping.) This is the blurb taken from Goodreads:
The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants.
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall.
As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late.
See? A lot going on. And this summary doesn’t come close to doing it justice. It’s a mixture of sweet, sad, and plain old creepy. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It had almost a Dickens feel to it, with its rich characters and Victorian London setting. I loved, loved the two orphans, especially Parsefall, who’s a tough street kid with motives that are never sugar-coated. Ms. Schlitz did a fine job of never compromising his character and yet was still able to make him so likeable. The book prompts no content warnings. I give this one a high recommendation. 10+