Review: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Historical fantasy with a feisty heroine.

Publication date: 5th May 2016
Publisher: Egmont

I really enjoyed Serafina and the Black Cloak – a strong middle grade mystery which keeps you on your toes throughout. Serafina is a great protagonist to follow, and the plot blends personal self-discovery with social commentary and magical threats. Set on the Biltmore Estate, Serafina is hiding in the Vanderbilt house as the secret daughter of their live-in engineer. When the children in the house start to disappear, she is forced to emerge from her isolated life in order to get to the bottom of the puzzle.

The glitz and glamour of the Vanderbilt family’s manor comes into stark contrast with our heroine, who has never received a present in her life and whose only clothes are her father’s old shirts. As Serafina allows herself to access the world that surrounds her but that she’s never been a part of, the reader is also introduced to the Vanderbilts and the Gilded Age. The historical elements transition smoothly into the fantastical, as the Man in the Black Cloak takes centre stage.

Beatty’s writing style is simple – perhaps a little too simple at times – and conversational. I especially liked the use of dialect and slang, which Serafina’s father uses regularly, and which she herself slips into. Not only does it serve to accentuate the social differences between the ‘upstairs’ and the ‘downstairs,’ it also creates a more complete picture of the life and experiences of Serafina and her “pa.”

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a magical mystery, with a wild atmosphere and a truly terrifying villain. The novel stops short of ‘gritty’ due to its strong message of friendship and love, but considering the two major climaxes occur in a graveyard, and Beatty does not hesitate to write blood and gore, I’d prepare for a gripping read.

 

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