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I first saw this title mentioned in Publishers Weekly's children's e-mail as "book to watch." I thought it sounded interesting at the time, but forgot about it until the book trailer popped up in my Facebook feed a few weeks ago. After that, I moved it up in my "to-read" list, and I'm glad I did.

On the border between fantasy and magical realism, Serafina and the Black Cloak is a suspenseful supernatural mystery and a story about friendship and the realization that "normal" doesn't matter.

Official Blurb:
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.

Summary in a few words: Suspenseful; Atmospheric; Accessible

I actually had no idea what to expect when I began reading this book. Even with the book trailer and the blurb indicating that there was something strange and supernatural happening, I wasn't prepared for how suddenly the reader is thrust into the mystery and the action. Within the first two chapters someone gets attacked and Serafina already has to run for her life. This is really drew me in right away.

I've never been to Biltmore, but it was quite easy to imagine the grandeur of the old house. It's clear that Beatty did his research and was very familiar with the house's layout and how it would have been run. However, much more than the house, the nearby forest really has the images that will stick with me. The first scene in the forest with the coach was reminiscent of the early chapters of Dracula, when something as familiar and safe as a stagecoach journey suddenly becomes foreboding and dangerous. This section of the book that takes places in the forest is probably my favorite--I love abandoned places and, without spoiling anything, I'll just say that Serafina's journey into a certain part of the forest was deliciously creepy.

Serafina is a wonderful character because despite being other-worldly, she is actually very like many children of her age. She has some physical differences which she worries and wonders about, and she ponders if she could fit in with "normal" people her age. She has certain things shes knows about but has never experienced (gifts, friends), and when she does experience these things for the first time, she worries whether or not she's "doing it right." I think many readers in the book's target audience will find a kindred spirit in Serafina.

This was a fun read and the action and suspense kept me turning pages well after bedtime. There were plenty of red herrings and I really enjoyed finding out more about Serafina and the type of creature she is.
It's also worth noting that this book accomplishes a rare feat in middle grade fantasy-- it has a protagonist who has a parent who is present throughout the book, is a developed character, and isn't the bad guy. So often in middle grade fantasy the parents must be Got Rid Of in order for the protagonist to start his or her adventure. It's understandable, and I'm not against stories that do this, but I really do appreciate when the parent(s) can remain in the picture without being evil or one-dimensional. Well done Robert Beatty.

Serafina and the Black Cloak book trailer:

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