Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Published: July 2015
Genre: middle grade, gothic, historical fiction
Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in the shadowed corridors of her vast 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 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 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 is a child of the night. She and her mechanic father live in the basement of the grand Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, and it’s her job to catch the rats. On one particular night of rat catching, she witnesses a frightening man in a black cloak kidnapping a child — and vanishing into thin air. As the visitors to Biltmore Estate realize none of the children are safe, it’s up to Serafina and her uncanny senses to solve the terrifying mystery of this demon man, the forest surrounding the estate, and the stolen children before it’s too late.
Gothic literature is meant to frighten, to raise your emotions and suspend belief. This was certainly frightening (I definitely wouldn’t recommend reading outside late at night (still not sure why I did that!)), especially in the first chapter. Whoa. However, there are elements of this, particularly with Appalachian lore and mountain lions and the like, that I found difficult to swallow. It’s one of those borderline fantasy or magical realism books, and magical realism isn’t my cup of tea. Apart from that, all the gothic trappings are there, and it worked!
Not going to lie, Serafina is one clever girl. She figured out the mystery behind the cloaked man long before I did, even as she was explaining it to Braeden, the nephew of the owner of Biltmore. I had my thoughts set on two different characters entirely. Beatty peppered clues throughout — so pay close attention.
This book’s strengths lie in the scary night scenes — the suspense was outrageously terrifying — and the easy camaraderie and friendship between Serafina and Braeden. Outcasts in their own way, they find and recognize a kinship in one another, and it’s so effortless and beautiful to watch. Neither of them knew the extent of their loneliness until they found one another. That’s probably what I enjoyed the most: neither character expressed sadness to the reader. It wasn’t moping or dejected. But the second Serafina and Braeden interact with one another, that spark of friendship lights up and it becomes obvious what they were missing out on their whole lives.
A good middle grade mystery with heaps of the chill factor tossed in. Ignore what I said earlier about reading outside. This is perfect for a summer evening if you want a good scare — no better way to embrace the southern atmosphere!