I think this might be the first book I've read that I'd put on the same level with JKR's writing in the Potter books. The detail. The way the story is spun. The writing. It's full of detail & imagery but not too much. But it's enough to make you see and feel and smell the settings. I'd almost venture to say that Ms. Schlitz's writing is better than JK's (and I'm not talking about Casual Vacancy here, b/c I feel like that's an entirely separate animal) as her pacing and prose are truly flawless.
Ms. Schlitz's complex plot, language, themes, and characterization build slowly but steadily, intertwining several plot lines before tying them all up in a wonderful climax. One thing I greatly enjoyed was the fact that it's not readily clear which characters are The Hero/ines, and which ones are The Bad Ones. Yes, Clara & Grisini are obvious, but the other ones, Parsefall, Madama, even Lizzie Rose, etc. are rather ambiguous. While I adored Potter, it felt very clear to me from the outset which "side" each character was on. I loved that Schlitz presented a complexity to her characters and peeled away their layers throughout the story, essentially leaving it up to the very end to reveal their true nature. It made me stop and think and constantly try to anticipate what the different characters would choose to do next.
I realize that many of the reviews are less than 4 stars, but in my opinion it's simply a splendid piece of storytelling. For me, this earned every star because it's not just the story that shines, but also the way it unfolds, the sometimes haunting characterizations, and of course Ms. Schlitz's wonderful prose.
Finally, I had the chance to meet Ms. Schlitz last April and talk with her in a social setting. I also had the chance to hear her speak to a roomful of librarians, teachers, and parents about this book, her writing process, and how difficult Splendors & Glooms was to write. She stood by herself in the middle of the stage and spoke with such passion & insight. No podium, no notes. Prior to speaking about Splendors, she read a passage (FROM MEMORY. Again, no podium, no notes) from her previous book, The Bearskinner. Ms. Schlitz is an absolutely CONSUMMATE storyteller. The entire room was entranced. I'd give anything to hear her read part of Splendors & Glooms.