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.
Newbery Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz’s Victorian gothic is a rich banquet of dark comedy, scorching magic, and the brilliant and bewitching storytelling that is her trademark.
I’ve wanted to read this mystical tale since it first came out, but then when it won a 2013 Newbery Honor Award, I knew I had to read it. The story contains everything I love to read: magic, Victorian London, mystery, bizarre enchantments, a creepy old estate house, an evil witch and brilliant characters. The storytelling is vibrant, the writing exquisite and the characters memorable. The relationship between Lizzie Rose and Parsefall is the perfect sister-brother interaction, even though they aren’t actually related. There are many wonderful and sad moments between them.
Tense and mysterious from the first page, this is the perfect book for any magic lover, young or old. Although a bit long, it would make a great read-a-loud/read-along choice.
Content note: Two or three uses of mild foul language, a few tense/scary scenes and some mild violence.
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