The thing about this sensuous new novel by Newbery award-winning author Laura Amy Schlitz is that it’s difficult to succinctly describe. I’ve come up with “a slightly magic Dickensian-inspired tale.” I’ve also described it as an “evil puppetmaster who mistreats two orphan children gets his due,” which is fairly accurate. And then there’s the “wizard vs. witch battle” angle as well.
To tell the truth: it really is a Dickensian story. Set in late 19th-century London, it’s the tale of two orphan children who are taken in by a Fagin-esque puppet master. The master, Grisini, has intimidated the boy, Parsefall, into helping him pick pockets. But the girl, Liza Rose, is clueless about Grisini’s true (read: evil) nature. Things are going (relatively) well, until a series of events occur that change everyone’s life. First, the small troupe performs a show at the house of Clara, a wealthy little girl who lives in a house of Mourning (her four siblings died of cholera), and then she goes missing. Then, the children decide to stand up to their wicked master, and an injured Grisini goes missing as well.
It’s intricate and detailed, weaving several lines together until it all comes to a dramatic end.
The thing that holds this novel together (for me at least) is Schlitz’s writing. It’s incredibly descriptive (a random sentence: “A whiff of strong perfume rose to her nostrils: sweet musk roses and another, more metallic smell, reminiscent of something or someone she disliked.”) and flowing. It starts with the witch, and you wonder what on earth is happening, especially after you meet the orphans. Somehow Schlitz makes it all work together seamlessly. There isn’t a wasted page, and even though the action slows way down in the middle while the orphans are trying to figure things out, it was enough to not only hold my interest, but to actively engage my imagination.
Rated: Mild for some violence, and for intensity.