Serafina and the Black Cloak (Robert Beatty)

September 11, 2015 Book Reviews 3 ★★★½

Serafina and the Black Cloak (Robert Beatty)Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
Published by Disney-Hyperion on July 14th 2015
Genres: Historical Fantasy, MG Books
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: the publisher
Goodreads
three-half-stars

"Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul."

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate.There's plenty to explore in her grand home, although 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 the 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, one 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.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review

A wonderful story, an atmospheric setting, and a brave and interesting main character make this MG fantasy a book children will enjoy. Adults however, may find the writing feels a little uneven at times.

What child hasn’t dreamt of exploring a huge castle, complete with secret passages? Biltmore is probably the closest thing the U.S. has to a real castle, so Serafina’s explorations of Biltmore have that same appeal. Serafina is something of a mystery herself – even she doesn’t know who or what she really is. Her true nature is foreshadowed and hinted at from the very first pages. The clues and references are  a little heavyhanded from an adult’s perspective, but I began to enjoy watching for all the signs and smiling over them, knowing that some younger readers won’t catch on for a while. I also enjoyed the author’s incorporation of Appalachian myths, which lend a regional, folkloric flavor to the fantasy elements.

The plot is guaranteed to fix a child’s interest: disappearing children, a frightening adversary in the person of the Man in the Black Cloak, and a growing upstairs-downstairs friendship between Serafina, who lives always in the shadows, and the privileged but unspoiled young Braeden Vanderbilt, who seems more comfortable with animals than with people. Together, Serafina’s character and the plot carry the book forward.

The writing, however, seems stilted at times, and there’s a great deal more telling than I prefer, particularly when it comes to Seraphina’s thoughts and feelings. It interrupts the narrative flow and sometimes comes across as slightly amateurish – a shame, since the story is otherwise spellbinding. Many children may not notice, but adults and experienced young readers may feel that something is slightly “off.” Don’t let that stop you, though. Serafina and the Black Cloak is worth reading despite its flaws.

 

three-half-stars

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • 2015 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
  • COYER Scavenger Hunt - Summer 2015

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