Serafina and the Black Cloak By Robert Beatty
“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 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.
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.
For some reason, the first twenty or so pages of this book were a little hard to get in to. But the book finds its stride about thirty pages in and it’s a quick page turner. This is a young middle grade novel, so some of the hints at Serafina’s true nature can feel somewhat heavy handed to adults, which might be why it didn’t grab my attention very well. But I think young readers will be just as intrigued at unraveling the mystery of Serafina as they will the terrifying specter Man in the Black Cloak.
Serafina is a feisty character and the Chief Rat Catcher of the Biltmore Estate, except no one knows she exists. Her pa is the chief handyman of the estate and they live in the basement in secret. Serafina has a complex inner life. She loves her pa but she wants more than anything to know who her mother was. I think what this book does best is illustrate that courage is not the absence of fear, but acknowledging it’s there and going forward anyway. Serafina is a smaller-than-average twelve year old girl facing down a supernatural foe and she is scared. She’s scared she’ll be caught, she’s scared her friend will be caught, she’s scared if the Man in the Black Cloak doesn’t catch her one of the Vanderbilt adults will catch her and put her pa in jail. But she goes on the hunt anyway, because leaving the Man in the Black Cloak to roam and harm others is worse than her other fears.
Towards the back end the book gets a little heavy handed again on morality and what makes one good and what makes one evil. I think that theme should have been introduced sooner since Serafina’s decision is an important turning point for her inner life and thoughts.
There’s also some folklore introduced near the ending, which again, I think should have been brought up sooner since it is a critical piece of information that ties the ending together. It’s not brought up by anyone until close to the 200 page mark. As much as Serafina reads, I think it could have been inserted much sooner when we were learning about some of her favorite books.
Young readers I think will enjoy the ending, the epic battle and how clever Serafina is, as well as the happy ending that leaves room for many more adventures. But as an adult reader I was put off by the winning-the-lottery levels of luck needed to make this ending so happy. I try to avoid spoilers in reviews, so I can’t say much else without giving things away, but the ending did leave me with one question: How? How did these characters just so happen to once again be in the same place at the same time?
Serafina and the Black Cloak is a good story for young readers if they want a Halloween vibe outside of October. For adult readers, I think it would make a good ‘car book’, that book you leave in the backseat to read when you have waiting time like at the doctor’s office or DMV.
You can find Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty at:
And Robert Beatty’s website: http://robert-beatty.com/