Monday, June 19, 2017
Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty
The story takes place in 1899 in a mansion called Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. Serafina is a 12-year-old girl who lives with her pa in the basement of Biltmore Estate. Serafina is an unusual little girl; she is “different” – she has only four toes on each foot, and amber-colored eyes like a cat. One night, she hears what sounds like a child being dragged around. She has excellent senses so she is easily able to find the room where this is happening, and watches, horror stricken, as the child is literally absorbed by the folds of a man’s black cloak.
Serafina tells her pa about the Man in the Black Cloak and how the cloak consumed a little girl. Sadly, her pa does not seem to believe her. She feels that her pa doesn’t care about her after he just goes back to work as if the conversation has never happened. Serafina is upset. She walks away, and as she passes the stairs, she feels an urge to climb them. She knows that she’s not supposed to be seen (no one knows that she and her pa are secretly living in the basement), but she has snuck around before without being caught.
Serafina walks up the stairs and into a large room with a piano where several people are gathered, doing her best to remain hidden. But soon she hears someone ask “Are you lost?” She whips around, hissing, and stops when she sees who it is. It is the young master, Braeden Vanderbilt, teenage nephew to Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt, the owners of the estate. He is her age, so she trusts him. They develop a friendship, and Serafina tells him about what she saw. Braeden tells her that this isn’t the first time a child has disappeared.
Serafina and Braeden embark on a series of thrilling adventures full of danger in which they try to unravel the mystery of the Man in the Black Cloak, who returns to the estate again and again in search of children to snatch. This becomes more complicated when it appears that the man in the cloak particularly wants Braeden!
This book is for people who love mysteries, ages 9 and up. It is not a difficult read, but at almost 300 pages, it is probably not for really young readers. It has an intriguing plot and a clever pair of young heroes. Also, it has a setting that actually exists in the real world: Biltmore Estate in North Carolina is a real place, built by the real Vanderbilts in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Some of the characters are made up (like Serafina) while others are real people (like Mr. Vanderbilt). And at the end of the story, readers realize why it is that Serafina is so “different.”
I sincerely hope anyone who reads this book will love it, and definitely check out the book’s sequel, Serafina and the Twisted Staff.
Daddy's afterthoughts: This is a mystery-thriller, and while I love stories that interweave shards of reality with fiction, I should point out what Common Sense Media says about the book: "This scary story is not for the faint of heart; the abduction scenes are graphic as children scream out in terror and seemingly vanish into the foul-smelling cloak. Serafina and Braeden are often under attack from the man in the cloak and other supernatural beings." So there you go. However, in the same breath that they give the story a 5/5 for "violence and scariness," they also give it full marks for "positive role models" and "positive messages." FWIW, Julia is a touch on the squeamish side, but she was not only fine with the book, but loved it. It is, I suppose, no darker than much of what happens in the Harry Potter stories.
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