This is tricky. I've been reading so many picturebooks that I had to shift gears to rate a novel. Why? Because I spent so much more time on this book that I want to rate it higher. Just because I read it and liked it, I want to say I "really" liked it. But truth be told, I don't know how many people I'll go out and recommend: "You're going to need to read this book." Again, a five would have to be beyond 'recommendable' and into the 'must have' and 'will re-read' category, and a four would have to be something I really wanted to talk to other people about. This one, I would talk about with people who happened to read it (which could be a lot because of the silver medal), but I wouldn't go around seeking out my own people to read it just so I could share the experience and discuss it with them.
I experienced some some fine aesthetic moments while inside the reading. I enjoyed the dark tone, and felt the small dose of fantasy in the premise was used well to set up a highly polarized and distorted moral world where dark themes could be explored because of the exaggeration. Much like in a fairy tale, we need something as extreme as a cannibal ogre to be the enemy so we can justify killing him in the story.
Social class is an issue that can be exaggerated very well in the Victorian era, so the setting made for interesting dynamics that way. Servants and the served is a strong theme. Containment, cruelty, magic (what makes something magic), and belonging could also be explored pretty deeply. Schlitz pulled no punches on the violence, which was refreshing because this realizes the sense of danger and immediacy.
The content about puppet theater was fun, but I spent the whole time wishing it was about a Punch and Judy 'swatchel omi' instead of a marionette (fantoccini) theater--many of these performers in the 1800s were also Italian. Punch & Judy is just so much more Victorian and English.