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Thursday, August 27, 2015

"Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty" (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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OVERVIEW: "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 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.

FORMAT: Serafina and the Black Cloak is a standalone children's mystery/thriller with historical fiction elements and supernatural twists. It stands at 304 pages and was published July 14, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion.

ANALYSIS: Sometimes in children's literature, especially the fantasy genre, authors try to overcomplicate books. It seems as if there is this fear that simple doesn't work or that readers will only read a book if it is overcomplicated, which isn't true. When done correctly, simplicity works and it is shown in Serafina and the Black Cloak.

Serafina and the Black Cloak is an adorable children's novel with a fairly straight forward plot. Yes, there are twists and turns along the way, but there isn't anything overly complex. Even though the novel's main plotline is simple – and I hate calling it simple because it makes it seem like the book wasn't good – it was captivating because of its characters.

I knew within the first few pages that this was going to be an enchanting novel. Serafina, our main heroine of the novel, is a young girl who has been hidden from the world and living in the basement of the Biltmore estate with no one the wiser to her existence. Serafina has this aura about her that makes her a bit loveable, yet mysterious.

Combine Serafina's mysterious storyline with her character development and you have a winning combination. It allows Robert Beatty to create a story that I would certainly read over and over again.

Serafina wasn't the only character to really pop out of the book and captivate my attention. Other characters, including the Young Master of the Biltmore Estate and Serafina's dad, were each captivating and unique in their own right. Considering the relative short nature of the book, it was amazing just how developed and unique every character became.

Another aspect of Serafina and the Black Cloak that I enjoyed was the mysterious or eerie plot. The entire plot revolves around not only discovering who this mysterious Black Cloak is and why he/she is stealing children, but it involves a haunted off-limit wooded area. It wasn't overly scary and really helped downplay what could have been a sugary sweet children's read.

In addition to the characters and eerie nature of the plot, the choice of having it set at the Biltmore Estate just felt right. I loved the way that Beatty really used the Biltmore Estate to his advantage when writing and created this whole mysterious maze-like world that kept me wanting to read.

I will admit that around the half-way mark, it was fairly obvious to me where the author was going with some of the plot elements. I wouldn't say the entire book was predictable, but some parts were – for adult readers. I do think younger readers, who are the main target audience, will not find it as easily predictable.

Overall, I will admit I enjoyed reading Serafina and the Black Cloak. It certainly wasn't overly complicated, yet the captivating characters and eerie plot/atmosphere created by the author made it an enjoyable read. It really shows that not every children's fantasy book has to have an overly complex plot to be good.


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