Splendors and Glooms

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Splendors and Glooms Book Poster Image
Dark, magical, Dickensian page-turner for tweens.

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Splendors and Glooms takes place in Victorian-era London and northern England. Readers will get an idea of Victorian ways of life (food, transportation, city life), as well as ideas of the time and class differences; some characters are wealthy, successful professionals, while others barely survive living hand-to-mouth.

Positive Messages

The novel shows that qualities like honesty, kindness, and moral fiber are as likely to be found in a poor urchin as they are in a wealthy doctor's daughter. Selflessness and bravery are rewarded, as well, and cruelty is punished.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Splendors and Glooms includes some very good-hearted characters and some very mean ones, in different walks of life. Adults range from well-meaning and unreliable to cruel and deceitful. The great role models in Splendors and Glooms are the children. Lizzie Rose, age 14, is the soul of kind, virtuous young womanhood. Parsefall and Clara are selfless and courageous when it counts.


The puppet master, Grisini, beats his charges, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, to punish them or make them do his dirty work. The witch, Cassandra, has a magic stone that gives her the sensation and illusion that she's being burned; she uses the magic in the stone to make Grisini bleed profusely, so when Grisini takes a fall, his wounds bleed an exceptional amount. Parsefall is missing a finger on one hand, and the book describes how he lost it. At one point, an adult drowns. Lizzie Rose is accosted by a young man who kisses her and won't release her. An adult aids her, and she remains afraid of the young man.


"Bloody" a couple of times; "bitch" once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The landlady, Mrs. Pinchbeck, drinks gin to excess. Lizzie Rose hides the bottle when she feels the woman may overdo it. Cassandra drinks wine and brandy.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Laura Amy Schlitz's Splendors and Glooms, a 2013 Newbery Honor Bookmixes historical, realistic fiction with fantasy. Described by many as "Dickensian," the novel reveals class differences and the gritty, squalid life of urban poor in Victorian London, but magical things happen, too. It's generally quite suspenseful, and the child characters are often in danger. There's some adult-on-kid violence -- Grisini beats his charges, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, to punish them or make them do his dirty work -- gory violence (a magic stone makes make Grisini bleed profusely), and frightening situations, including some involving fire and/or drowning. There's a description of how a character lost one of his fingers. Adults drink alcohol, and a young man forcibly steals a kiss from a young girl.

User Reviews

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  • Kids say

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Teen, 13 years old Written byEllie Van Neste April 12, 2018

Exciting, but with sexual content

Splendors and Glooms is intriguing and mysterious, but it has a couple parts that would have been best left out. At one point, Lizzie Rose mentions catching Pa... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old March 20, 2016

Great descriptive writing

I absolutely love the writing in this book. It is very descriptive and interesting, not at all dry. The story line is very creative but can be a little dark.... Continue reading

What's the story?

In Newbery medalist Laura Amy Schlitz's novel SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS, poor little rich girl Clara Wintermute lives with her parents in a wealthy section of London. Her greatest wish for her birthday is for the puppet troupe she saw in a park one day to perform for her and her party guests. So the puppet master, Grisini, and his assistants, 14-year-old Lizzie Rose Fawr and 12-year-old Parsefall Hooke, visit the Wintermute home and put on their show. Then, not long after they visit, young Clara goes missing. Alleged kidnappers demand ransom from her parents, and Clara's father, Dr. Wintermute, brings the ransom to the appointed place, but the kidnapper never shows up. Meanwhile, an old witch is using her magic to summon Grisini to her estate near Lake Windermere. All of the children's lives soon become entangled with Grisini; the witch, Cassandra; and the Wintermutes. And all the while, Clara is being hidden in plain sight.

Is it any good?

Author Laura Amy Schlitz has created a delightful mix of genres with Splendors and Glooms. Schlitz is equally admired for her wonderful historical fiction (like her Newbery Medal-winning book Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village) as for her fantasy writing (The Night Fairy). This novel offers a revealing, age-appropriate look at life on both sides of the fence in Victorian London. At the same time, it fascinates with a magical plot and characters including a deceitful witch, an evil puppet master, and three deserving children who must unravel more than one mystery. Splendors and Glooms is a dark, wonderful, Dickensian page-turner for preteens.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how author Laura Amy Schlitz is well-regarded for both her realistic historical fiction and her fantasy books. What elements of this book would you call historical fiction, and what's fantasy?

  • The portrayal of London in Splendors and Glooms has been called "Dickensian." What about it reminds readers of Charles Dickens' books?

  • Do you think it's right for Clara's parents to take her to Kensel Green on her birthdays and Christmas? Why do you think it was so important to Clara to have the puppet show at her birthday party?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love historical fiction and fantasy

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