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Serafina and the Black Cloak

Review

Serafina and the Black Cloak

It’s the turn of the century in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina, a time where the shadows of old myths and traditions are fading and the dim light of technological advance is growing. Young Serafina --- a 12-year-old girl who lives in the boiler room in the Biltmore Estate of the esteemed Vanderbilt family --- finds herself in this strange, bifurcated world, she herself feeling just as divided. 
 
Serafina has never felt like a normal girl and she certainly doesn’t look it. Her strange amber eyes almost glow at night, and with her light weight (it helps to be missing bones and a toe on each foot), she can prowl through the estate at night and even during the daytime without anyone ever noticing. 
Serafina’s father runs the electrical appliances in the estate, and Serafina remains completely unknown to all other members of the household. Serafina wonders why her father, who loves her dearly and has taken care of her with fierce protection, will never let her be seen by anyone else other than him. But her love for him keeps her from revealing herself, and from traveling into the woods just beyond the estate rumored to be filled with ghouls, foul creatures and menacing entities that are best left undisturbed. 
 
But when a mysterious but ferociously evil being known as the Man in the Black Cloak begins abducting children from the Biltmore Estate and Serafina is the sole witness to one of the attacks, she must face massive changes in her life and figure out how to deal with the rift in her world and in her soul. How can she reconcile her desire to be accepted as a normal girl and have normal friends with her ever burning wish to know what it is like to fully become a creature of the night? 
 
When she befriends Braedon, the young nephew of Master Vanderbilt, they team up to work together to discover the identity of the Man in the Black Cloak before yet another child is abducted. Could it be the work of otherworldly forces creeping in from the forest, angry that humans are trespassing in their woods, or could it be a resident of the estate acting on his or her own personal agenda? Could it be both?
 
SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK by Robert Beatty was an absolute delight to read, and it had me turning pages sometimes faster than I was breathing. Everything about it is perfect for kids, but it also has good doses of mature themes and ideas to challenge, thrill and frighten younger readers. The supernatural elements blend in perfectly with the expert craftsmanship of the setting, and I felt like I was directly experiencing Serafina’s midnight crawls through the house and her perilous travels through the woods. 
 
The book is like a tapestry, intricate parts coming together to create something rousing, vibrant, and beautiful. 
 
I could see everything vividly, and that was in no small part because of Beatty’s masterful handling of the POV. The third person was close enough to Serafina to see things through her eyes but distant enough to allow the narrator’s voice to seep in and add clever observations and stunning metaphors. That too blended very nicely, and I use that word again because I think, in more general terms, that was the best element of this book: blending and balance. 
 
There is a lot going on in this book --- many different characters, arcs, struggles, conflicts and elements of genres crossing and meeting --- and everything works well with each other. Nothing seems wedged in or is handled in a clunky way, and every element helps serve another. The book is like a tapestry, intricate parts coming together to create something rousing, vibrant, and beautiful. 
 
I could tell how much painstaking work Beatty put into SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK; there was just this aura of care and nuance to the story. I was struck by the detail he put into the novel, and I felt his sheer delight for the story emanating from the pages. I found that inspiring as a writer, because I fear I forget sometimes that I love to write and that stories are fun to make. I have a feeling that other young writers who read this book will be inspired, too.
 
Now, SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK might not be for everyone, as the prose is very stylized and heightened, but those that either love the style or don’t mind will love this book. There are a handful of genuinely surprising twists and I appreciated the fast, steady pacing. The characters are all well-rounded, distinct and realistic, and I adored Serafina. She is fierce but also vulnerable. She is insanely relatable at certain points, especially during her inner monologues about wanting to find herself and have a place in the world. 
 
In the end, this book was just a ton of fun to read, and it’s been awhile since I’ve so simply and thoroughly enjoyed reading a story. It honestly has something for everyone, and it will delight a wide age range of readers. Whether you want an exciting new tale for the summer or maybe want a spooky story to revel in come autumn, I highly recommend SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK. Beatty’s done a wonderful job crafting a highly entertaining and original story that will excite many young readers and any parents that choose to read along as well. 
 
P.S:  I recommend looking up Biltmore Estate after you finish reading the book. You’ll be hurtled even deeper into the world Beatty created, and you’ll be astounded by how fully Beatty immersed himself in his world to create his chilling, thrilling tale.

Reviewed by Corinne Fox on July 13, 2015

Serafina and the Black Cloak
(Serafina #1)
by Robert Beatty

  • Publication Date: July 14, 2015
  • Genres: Historical Fantasy
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 1484709012
  • ISBN-13: 9781484709016