Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Edition: Audiobook, 8 Hours and Minutes
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fantasy
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Rating: 4/5 Stars
Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand 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 sneak and hide.
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 as slinky and lithe at tale as the main character herself, giving the listener plenty of twists and turns and never letting the story get cooped up in a corner for too long. In some ways it has an almost old southern Gothic feel to it, with atmospheric tension, chilling revelations, and just enough charm to keep it from dipping into nightmare territory. It takes place at the Biltmore estate while the Vanderbilts were still living and entertaining there, and focuses on a small girl named Serafina as a horrifying man in a black cloak begins taking people from the grounds. I loved all the different genre elements in this one. The historical touches made me want to plan a trip to Biltmore and try to see what Serafina saw everyday, the horror elements were chilling and really set the right mood for the upcoming October, and the fantasy was an unexpected but delightful touch as we slowly learn that there is much more to the forest than meets the eye.
Serafina is a unique little girl who prowls the grounds of Biltmore while everyone else is asleep. She looks a bit different than most, has too few toes and bones, and can hunt rats better than any cat. She’s spunky, curious, smart and brave; and being inside her mind was a real treat. I loved how innocent she is but how well she understands surviving, she knows how to be a predator but this book shows her what it’s like to be prey. Her story is one of courage and self acceptance, and I really loved seeing her learn what it’s like to be a friend and how to celebrate her differences instead of fear them. Braedon was a great counterpoint to her wildness, with his calm demeanor and well mannered ways, but I do wish we would have been able to spend more time with him as I felt I didn’t quite get to see what he was like without Serafina around.
I really loved the way this one was written. It has an almost light nature to it at times, but the detail and wording was so perfect that it could turn chilling and scary in an instant. I will say that while this is definitely a middle grade novel, it is more of a horror novel and I would only feel comfortable giving it to a more mature middle grade readers as opposed to the younger end. Overall I really loved it though, and it made me remember why Middle Grade is such a fantastic age range for reading.