Monday, May 13, 2013

Splendors and Glooms

Splendors and Glooms
by Laura Amy Schlitz
narrated by Davina Porter
Recorded Books. Inc.2012
12 hours, 2 minutes
Children, Ages 8 -12

The Phoenix Stone is a fire opal that grants great power, and a great curse, upon the person who possesses it. Cassandra, an aged woman and witch, has it and wants to get rid of it. Grisini, a wizard and puppeteer in London, wants it but can't get it. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, Grisini's apprentices in fantocini, don't care about it, but are used as pawns in the wizard's scheme to acquire it. And Clara is the victim of enchantments and a kidnapping plot as her fate aligns with that of the others and to that of the Phoenix Stone. Actually, all of the characters are victims in this  tale of intrigue taking place in London, 1816: Cassandra and Grisini are prey to their greed and ambition; Lizzie and Paresfall to the vicissitudes of being orphans at time when poverty and workhouses were common and; Clara of a survivor's guilt dating back to the death of all of her siblings.

Splendors and Glooms is a fantastic tale with magic and thrills and, rich in detail of setting and thought; but it is also a rather dark and sophisticated story. It is ostensibly aimed at children, ages 8 -12, presumably because the story features children in that age range. The story provides a number of opportunities to explore a different time, place and culture. Listeners actually of the target demographic might benefit from the insight of a more mature reader to more fully explain subjects as death masks, memento mori, London fog, child exploitation, cholera, ... than is addressed in the book itself. There is also some rather frightening imagery described in the story: witches burning, a lurid monkey-shaped bell pull, a scene in a crypt, a bit of violence and blood... in fact quite a bit more gloom than splendor overall. There is a trend in children's literature that encourages walking on the dark side, indulging in the more gothic themes that harken back to the original fairy tales, and Splendors and Glooms follows this trend.

Davina Porter is the British narrator whose work on this book is irreproachable. Her cultured voice, distinct characterizations, her ability to disappear into the text, mark her as a master narrator. In Splendors and Glooms, Davina Porter voices the POVs of an aged crone, an old, sleazy man, a pre-adolescent girl with theatrical training, an illiterate street urchin (boy) and a little rich girl, all with seeming ease. Splendors and Glooms is a relatively long book for children's fare, but the narrator's pace never flagged and was as strong at the end as it was in the beginning.

Other Stuff: I dnloaded a digital copy of Splendors and Glooms (by Laura Amy Schlitz; narrated by Davina Porter) from iTunes.  I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

This is an Armchair Audies review :-)

Check out Heidi's Armchair Audies review of Splendors and Glooms at Bunbury in the Stacks!

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