Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
Pub. Date: July 14, 2015
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Disney-Hyperion!!)
Summary: Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in the shadowed corridors of her vast home, but she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.
But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity before all of the children vanish one by one.
Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.
Genre: Middle Grade, Supernatural, Mystery
Recommended for: Fans of Roald Dahl and Claire Legrand
Come hither, come hither, and lay with me
We’ll murder the man who murdered me
It’s the late 1890s and Serafina and her father are living in the basement of the sprawling Biltmore Estate. And by living in the basement, I mean hiding. You see, Serafina isn’t like other girls…or other children for that matter. With her nearly white hair, long limbs, and yellow eyes (eyes that are fully capable of seeing in the dark without a lantern) Serafina is certainly unlike any of the children that have run through Biltmore’s halls. Only her Pa knows what Serafina truly is and in an attempt to protect the two of them, they’ve hidden away in the basement unbeknownst to anyone.
When children start disappearing however and with being a witness to one incident, Sera knows she needs to act. Even though she was always forbidden to talk to the Vanderbilts, always forbidden from entering the forest, Sera knows what she saw and what she saw weren’t children simply running away. No, the Man in the Black Cloak chased them and captured them and, with the help of possibly her first friend young Master Vanderbilt, Sera decides to hunt down this evil man before any other children can be taken.
From the historical setting (BILTMORE ESTATE Y’ALL! Blue Ridge Mountains!) to the paranormal elements (the truth behind Sera’s identity, the Man in the Black Cloak’s ability to fly) Serafina and the Black Cloak hit all of my buttons. What started out as a fun mystery took a serious plummet into deliciously creepy once Sera entered the forbidden forest (the gravestones alone were enough to send a chill up my spine!) Fans of Claire Legrand and Roald Dahl take note: the entire time I was reading I kept getting hints of these two authors – and that’s definitely not a bad thing!
As a lover of all things history, I was delighted that the very-real George and Edith Vanderbilt were prominently featured – they’re the owners of the home at this time. Unfortunately, Braeden, the couple’s nephew and Sera’s friend/fellow detective, was merely a fictional character which is a shame because he was wonderfully crafted. Even his backstory (he’s living with his aunt and uncle because there has been a fire in his home that took the lives of his parents and siblings) sounded plausible. The Vanderbilts had a daughter and I was curious as to why it was Braeden and not their real daughter Cornelia who aided Sera. Turns out Cornelia was born in 1900. And this novel takes place in 1899. Whoops! Fun fact: George and Edith had tickets for the Titanic, only to change their plans and book passage on another liner that was heading to New York earlier.
Not to be confused with this Seraphina, Serafina and the Black Cloak was an absolute joy to read. Its quick pace and intriguing plot had me flipping the pages, ultimately making this a one-sitting read. With a wealth of history and wonderfully creepy elements to boot, Serafina and the Black Cloak is sure to find a home among readers of Emma Trevayne, Neil Gaiman, Lemony Snicket, and Roald Dahl.