Katie Reads: Serafina and the Black Cloak

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“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 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.

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while now. It was very popular among my students last year, especially the 4th graders who take an annual trip to see Biltmore, and I’ve had a copy sitting on my shelf waiting for the right time. The right time turned out to be right after a discussion in one of my teaching courses about gothic literature when I suddenly realized that this book would qualify. Serafina and the Black Cloak perfectly encapsulates the genre of gothic literature, and could be a great way of introducing the genre and discussing its features with younger readers. Creepy, vaguely supernatural occurrences happening at castle grand estate, but tame enough that kids will be spooked but not horrified. Also, it’s a much better book than say, Wuthering Heights, which is often used to introduce gothic literature instead so much hatred for that book. But that’s another blog post.

I always feel a little trepidation going into a book that’s received high praise, because I don’t want to be disappointed. Luckily with Serafina and the Black Cloak, the hype proved to be well deserved. The heroine was spunky and unusual. The plot clipped along at a nice pace, and the mystery was sufficiently creepy and engaging. I also loved the inclusion of Biltmore Estate. When I first read the back of the book, I remember incredulously wondering how on Earth Serafina and her father have been secretly living in the basement of Biltmore – a national historic site. Obvious answer: the book is set in the past before modern security systems. Duh Katie, good job. Although the story is set in the past, we don’t get a lot of details that point to an exact when. As someone who loves history, this was my one quibble with the book. Based on certain details I could roughly guess when it was meant to be set, but I wanted something a little more specific than vaguely end of Victorian era or Edwardian. This didn’t affect my reading of the book, it was just a nagging curiosity of mine.

Overall, a fun, creepy read that I would be happy to recommend to my students or friends.

Good for fans of: Halloween, creepiness, vaguely supernatural gaslight stories, spunky heroines.

Not good for fans of: Rats. Serafina is the Chief Rat Catcher of Biltmore and throws some outside at one point (but there are no rat deaths!).

Stay magical readers!

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