Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, was published in 2015 by Hyperion.
“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.” 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, 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 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.
I’ve heard some good things about Serafina and the Black Cloak but sadly I wasn’t particularly thrilled by it. I liked Serafina well enough, though I’m not much of a fan of “wild girl” character types. The other characters weren’t bad either, although the villain was too obvious (but very creepy and suitably villainous).
To be honest, it was mostly the oddity of the plot that put me off the novel. I was rolling with it up until some really clunky writing during the coach scene (where Beatty insinuated something sinister about Mr. Crankshod and then never followed up on it, unless the point was to throw a red herring into the mix). Then Serafina runs into the forest and meets a mountain lion and that’s where the book completely lost me. That’s where it got a tad too “this is completely unbelievable” for me to handle. And I understand that the things that are revealed afterward are supposed to make some of the earlier things make more sense, but at that point I was already too far gone to be brought back by some resolution.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked the book. The characters were good. I just wasn’t grabbed by it. It was good in places, but overall I found Serafina and the Black Cloak confusing, strange, and a little too hard for me to swallow. Perhaps part of that is how the plot reveals were handled (clumsily). I might read the sequel, I might not. Serafina and the Black Cloak is a book that only certain people would love, I think, and I wasn’t one of those.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“I’m not going to hurt you, child…” came the hideous rasping voice again, as if the man wasn’t of his own mind but possessed by a demented, ravenous demon. The folds of the cloak cast a wretched pall over her, drenching her in a dripping, suffocating sickness. She felt her soul slipping away from her—not just slipping, but being yanked, being extracted. Death was so near that she could see its blackness with her own eyes and she could hear the screams of the children who had gone before her.