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19 December, 2017

[Review] Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

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Series: Serafina #1
Release Date: 14 July, 2015
Publisher: DisneyHyperion
Genre: Middle Grade/Historical Fiction (1800s)/Mystery
ISBN:  9781101917091
Edition: Audiobook
Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Written: 28 October, 2017
Summary: “Never go into 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 Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt’s vast and opulent 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 lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember. She has learned to prowl through the darkened corridors at night, to sneak and hide, using the mansion’s hidden doors and secret passageways. But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows the clues to follow. A terrifying man in a black cloak 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, where she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must not only face her darkest enemy, but delve into the strange mystery of her own identity.

See more at Robert Beatty's Website.
I’d been aware of the Serafina series for a while, it was impossible to miss the various displays of the books in bookstores as they came out. It took a while, but I finally picked up the first one as an audiobook, and I’m so glad I did. Serafina introduces readers to a world of magic and delight as they step into the late 1890s and to the time of Biltmore Estate. Set during the height of the Biltmore empire in western North Carolina, readers are swept into Serafina’s world of solitude and nighttime prowling almost immediately. Serafina, the daughter of the chief handyman on the estate, acts as the chief rat-catcher of Biltmore. This means she functions more at night, sleeping on and off during the day. Her strange behavior is partly explained by the fact her Pa wants to keep her hidden from everyone in the house, fearful of having his daughter taken away by government officials. Serafina, however, is beginning to grow discontent with the reclusive life, and longs for a chance to talk to anyone in the upper floors of the house if only to have a friend. The chance comes when she witnesses a man in a cloak absorb another child. Uncertain of what she sees, she feels obligated to tell someone what happened to the girl despite her Pa’s warnings of staying out of sight and keeping to herself. Ultimately, Serafina sneaks upstairs to listen to the gossip and see if she can find someone to tell as the guests begin organizing a search party. Braeden, the young nephew of the Vanderbilts who lives with them, notices Serafina while she’s out in the open and attempts to converse with her. Though they get off to a rocky start, the pair later become fast friends, even with the differences in opinion of who the culprit could be. Readers will be kept in suspense as to who the actual villain of the novel is, with a few different options being presented during the book. I’ll admit there were few parts that were rather awkward for me, such as Serafina’s first attempts at conversation that I had to skip over. While I try not to do that, the second hand embarrassment was too strong to listen to it. Otherwise, I absolutely enjoyed the story for its richness in historical settings, obvious research done, and fantastic world building. I immediately had to try and get my hands on book two of this series to enjoy.

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