|Robb's Rambling Reviews
Although I thoroughly enjoyed Serafina and the Black Cloak, I must admit my initial response did not bode well. Beatty's skillful use of characterization however, soon overtook any initial reservations I had regarding his use of colloquial dialect. Set in the Ashville, North Carolina in the year 1899, on the beautiful Biltmore Estate, Beatty brings to life the inner workings of the grand house and grounds, which in some ways becomes an actual character in the novel. Having lived in the area for many years, Beatty not only uses his knowledge to further his work, he is able to create a setting so true to life, I can just envision young readers begging their parents to visit the estate on their summer vacation.
The book's plot, which centers around missing children, a supernatural cloak, and a man in black, ties back nicely into the setting as we are introduced to rural Appalachian Mountain folklore and superstitions, which nicely further the plot. As children begin to disappear, it becomes apparent to our young heroine, that unless she takes drastic steps, these disappearances may continue until she and her cohort go missing as well. As the plot twists and turns like an old country lane, Beatty gives away just enough information to keep readers on their toes, searching darkened corridors, and trudging through old cemeteries along with the books protagonists.
Speaking of characters, Beatty has so successfully created his young heroes, that I did an online search for Breadon Vanderbilt, Serafina's cohort, and first true friend. As Serafina has grown up in the vast estate, she begins to realize there are reasons her father keeps her hidden deep in the cellars of Biltmore. These reasons shape not only her past, but who she is becoming as well. Without these hidden secrets, unraveling the puzzle of the missing children would never be possible. Breadon, a young orphan, who had come to live with his aunt and uncle, the owners of Biltmore, is immediately drawn to Seraphina and their friendship drives the plot towards it fantastical and riveting conclusion.
I looked forward to reading Serafina and the Black Cloak due largely to the book's setting. I have visited the rambling Gilded Age mansion with my family on several occasions, each time hating to leave. Beatty's treatment of the house as a living, breathing, character allows me to travel back to the home and gardens; reliving the trips as he so clearly and affectionately describes its grand rooms and lavish gardens, greedily imagining myself there at the turn of the century. Just as the grand home has little changed from the days the Vanderbilts graced its halls, neither has the message Beatty weaves seamlessly throughout the book, and I couldn't agree more. Indeed, we all have our parts to play in the grand scheme of life. Some of us were born into it knowing exactly what is expected of us, others of us however, must look deep inside ourselves to find out who we really are, and what we are made of. As I flew through the pages of the book, I soon realized the ending of the book would mean the end of my time with our brave and compassionate heroine. Imagine my delight when I realized Beatty has created two other Serafina novels. I can't wait!
Serafina and the Black Cloak was quite a surprise. Not only is Robert Beatty able to conjure up the ghost of an era long gone, he has also breathed life into the characters he creates. The magic and superstitions he weaves throughout the book, seem not out of time or place, but give credence to the lives they live. They do not overshadow the work, but merely enhance it, making it all that more believable. For those looking for historical accuracy, and engaging plot and plucky characters, Serafina and the Black Cloak will not disappoint.
Citation: Beatty, R. (2015). Serafina and the black cloak. New York, NY: Disney-Hyperion.