I am wavering between three and four stars. The premise is right up my alley: plucky and clever children encounter intrigue, mystery, and magic in Victorian London. I liked almost all the characters (particularly the children Lizzie Rose, Clara, and Persefall). And the book is full of wonderful descriptions: escaping the cold heavy fog in a cozy drawing room; strawberry jam, warm fluffy biscuits and tea with loads of milk and sugar; the ermine lining on a beautiful warm winter coat; paper cones stuffed with sugared candy and pretty ribbons. I love love love reading these about these small luxuries in books and for that reason alone, I enjoyed it very much.
And yet. The story was just okay. There were a few things going on here: Clara is the only surviving child after her siblings are wiped out by cholera and her parents ooze grim disapproval for anything remotely fun or pleasant. She sees an amazing puppet show in the park and convinces her parents to hire the puppeteer to perform at her birthday party. After disgracing herself at the party, she disappears. Meanwhile, an old and very sick witch named Cassandra has this weird mind meld with the puppeteer and, though they had a horrible following out years ago, she summons him to her bedside to learn the secret of the magic fire opal. With the puppeteer gone, his two wards Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are left to fend by themselves. And then somehow ALL OF THESE CONVERGE. It is sort of weak, but nonetheless enjoyable, and more importantly, not too scary because I am a baby who cannot read that sort of thing. Especially in kid's books, which lull you into thinking they will be spooky but not sinister. Those are the worst! But that is not this type of book, so fret not.