Book Review: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty is a middle grade novel with a Gothic or horror feel to it. 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.

Serafina and the Black Cloak is a story with mystery, adventure, and a little magic. Serafina does not know much about anything outside her daily life of hiding in the shadow and hunting the rats that try to call Biltmore their home. She knows nothing about her mother, or why she and her father secretly live in the basement. When she sees the man in the black cloak take a girl she begins searching for answers, not just about what happen to the girl but also about herself. Serafina and Braeden are characters that see themselves as ‘other’ and some of their friendship finds root in that, but they are both interesting characters on their own. I found myself deeply invested in both children’s lives, and interested in their history. I enjoyed the unfolding of Serafina’s history, though not all of it surprised me. I was disappointed that we did not get more about Braeden and some of the side characters did not get a solid resolution as far as I was concerned. I was enthralled with the read, and enjoyed it. The lack of small bits of resolution just left me hoping that Beatty would revisit the Biltmore, since this story concluded but left plenty of room for more adventure.

Serafina and the Black Cloak is an engaging middle grade read with a good balance of mystical and coming of age themes. I think this will be a popular read for many.

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