Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Ekta R. Garg

November 25, 2015

Genre: Middle grade fiction

Rated: Bookmark it!

A pre-teen girl breaks the rules and ventures beyond the great estate where she lives to try to find the children who have begun disappearing from the estate. During her quest she makes an unlikely friend and discovers an essential part of her identity. That part of her identity, however, might just be the one thing to put her at risk for becoming the next abductee. Author Robert Beatty presents middle grade readers an engaging plot in his well-researched book Serafina and the Black Cloak.

As far back as she can remember Serafina has always lived with her pa in the basement of the home of the great Vanderbilt family known as the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. From an early age Serafina understood two things clearly: the first was that she needed to stay out of sight of anyone who lived in or worked at the estate; the second was that she had the grave responsibility as the estate’s C.R.C., or Chief Rat Catcher.

At the age of 12, Serafina doesn’t really mind—much—that her pa insists on their secrecy. His work as the Biltmore’s chief engineer keeps him busy fixing the elevators, steam heating systems, and Edison’s complicated electricity mechanisms. Serafina spends most of her days staying out of sight and part of her nights hunting rats and releasing them far from the estate’s grounds. Even though the Vanderbilt family doesn’t even know she does the job, Serafina takes her work as seriously as her pa takes his.

One night Serafina hears odd noises, and she tracks them down. They lead her to a terrifying sight, and Serafina manages to escape a kidnapper. The next day word trickles down through the chain of servants that a little girl visiting the Biltmore has disappeared, and Serafina knows she has to find a way to help. During her mission to find a solution to the problem, Serafina meets Braeden, the Vanderbilts’ nephew, who lives at Biltmore.

Between the two of them, they decide to solve the mystery. As more children start to disappear, one thing becomes painfully clear to Serafina: whoever is doing the kidnapping is coming for Braeden next. But she and Braeden don’t have much information to go on, other than the fact that the determined, zealous kidnapper wears a sinewy black cape with magical properties. Serafina realizes that if she wants to stop the kidnapper, she may have to put herself directly in harm’s way.

Author Robert Beatty captures the essence of life in a Southern state to a T. His delightful, but prudent, use of Southern language at just the right times contributes to pinning the scene to its setting. Readers will definitely sense the world of Asheville without feeling like they’re being inundated with tropes about the area.

Serafina is most certainly a plucky character, one readers will have no problem whatsoever cheering on. Braeden, too, is incredibly likeable, and the cast of other supporting characters fill out the story nicely. Along with the main plot of the missing children, Beatty folds in a subplot about Serafina’s past that adds just enough flavor to the story without overpowering it.

A long forest scene in the middle of the book slows down the pacing for a few pages, and Serafina’s pa doesn’t appear as frequently as some readers might think or expect. Also, some of the fight scenes might make younger readers in the target audience a little anxious. But for the most part, Serafina and the Black Cloak is an enjoyable read, and I recommend readers Bookmark it.