I like Serafina. She’s a strange, spunky girl with a mysterious past, an interesting skill set, and a set of problems that further gets stranger as the story progresses. Plus, she’s the Vanderbilt’s Chief Rat Catcher, which earns her double plus kudos. Because CRCs exist. Yep.
SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK
by Robert Beatty
Disney Hyperion, July 2015
Children’s historical fantasy
Rated: / 5 cookies
provided by NetGalley
“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.
What I Liked
Serafina herself. As I mentioned already, I liked Serafina’s 12-year-old personality. She’s a girl living in the Vanderbilt’s basement, hidden away from the world by her adoptive father, whose sheer mind for engineering is the surefire way of keeping himself employed in the Vanderbilt home. Of course, the problem therein lies in the fact that if anyone figured out what Serafina and her father were doing living in the basement, they’d be both thrown out into the cold American wilderness without further ado. All the same, this doesn’t stop the curious and plucky heroine from observing the people around the Vanderbilt manor. And there’s of course the whole business with the man in the black cloak.
Historical backdrop. The story takes place within Biltmore Estate and its surrounding area. The estate is located in North Carolina, and was built by one very affluent George Vanderbilt, far away from his familial roots of New York City. I’m guessing the story takes place in the 19th century, with its burgeoning electrical innovations (said to be something only the rich can currently afford), and its quaint societal rituals. Serafina wasn’t the only one going into fits of fancy when imagining American high society during this time period.
…her back arching like a witch’s best friend as she hissed at him.
That description, though. A few times I actually found myself enjoying a turn of phrase or a piece of description that littered the story. It’s a children’s book, sure, but I was still terribly tickled about finding words like “catawampus” in the middle of the story.
The Black Cloak. While the man in the Black Cloak was certainly an interesting character, the Villain of the Moment Award has to go to the Black Cloak itself, because, well, who knew a piece of cloth could be so gosh darn eeeeeevil? And it really is. The cloak itself is constantly referred to as snakelike when it moves, and I believe it, considering what it tries to do near the end of the story. I almost want a cloak like the Black Cloak, if only to utilize its Bigger-on-the-Inside perk. Not so much for its soul-sucking skill, though.
Serafina’s father. It was such a lovely father-daughter relationship, even if it wasn’t, strictly speaking, biological.
What I Didn’t Like
Braeden relationship. Okay, as a character, I didn’t think Braeden was too bad. I mean, he loved his animals, so there’s something to be said for the Vanderbilt heir. With his dog, Gideon, he kind of is adorable. I’m not sure I quite understood where Serafina wanted to go with her relationship with Braeden. She’s all fluttery and fidgety around him the first few times, and I didn’t exactly see what the whole fuss was about, to be honest. That said, as a plot device, Braeden’s introduction into the story proved useful for Serafina to be motivated enough to catch the man in the Black Cloak.
Lost in the forest. There were portions of the book that I thought dragged on, though after I’d gotten further into the story, I saw their importance. Still, it took me forever to get out of the forest with Serafina, considering I kept falling asleep every time I tried reading that chapter.
4 out of 5 cookies! All the same, the book was entertaining enough, a short and dark mysterious adventure all wrapped in a not-so-black-cloak.
Food and Fandom: “Chicken and Grits”
Embers glowed in the old metal barrel over which he had cooked their dinner of chicken and grits a few hours before. They had huddled around the cook fire for warmth as they ate. As usual, she had eaten the chicken but left the grits…
“They ain’t nothin’ but ground-up corn, girl,” he said, poking at the fire with a stick to arrange the other sticks the way he wanted them. “everybody and his uncle likes corn ‘cept you.”
“You know I can’t stomach anything green or yellow or disgusting like that, Pa, so quit hollering at me.”
Okay. So I didn’t exactly make chicken and grits when I thought about food that accompanied this book. In my defense, I wasn’t feeling very chickeny, and like Serafina, I’m not all too fond of grits. All the same, the whole “I can’t stomach anything green or yellow or disgusting” made me think of broccoli and cheese. And then I decided, hell, why not pair it with a lemon-coated salmon?
It was delicious, by the way.