So today, I’m going to review a middle-school/YA fantasy novel. Hold onto your dark and ominous cloaks for Robert Beatty’s first Serafina novel.
“Never go into the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”
Serafina and her pa have secretly lived in the basement of the grand old house on the Biltmore Estate, surrounded by dark forests, for as long as Serafina can remember. Shetakes the greatest of care never to be seen.
But when children at Biltmore start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks the corridors at night. To solve the mystery,Serafina teams up with Braden Vanderbilt, the nephew of the estate’s owners. Their search for answers leads them into the very forest Serafina has always been taught to fear.
Stand alone or series: #1 in the Serafina series
How did I get this book: Bought
First off, how did it take me so long to read this? This book had me on edge far more than a lot of horror/crime books I’ve read recently – and this is aimed at middle-schoolers! The tension and mystery are on point and you feel actual fear for Serafina’s safety.
I love the idea of a little girl, living with her dad in a basement while no one has any idea that they’re there. Serafina sleeps all day and wakes at night to catch rats. An unusual occupation for an unusual little girl. We know right away that this is no ordinary heroine. Something about her is supernatural and inhuman.
It’s one of these nights when Serafina stumbles across something out of place in her basement – a mysterious man in a cape chasing a little girl. My heart was in my throat when I got to that bit. The writing put me right there: Serafina’s fear, the pleas of the little girl and the terrifying chase down a dark basement hallway.
The story itself can be a bit frightening if you think about it. No one really wants to think about children vanishing in the night and the first abduction we see rings a bit too close to home. Children reading this might not notice but as an adult the undertones are completely horrifying.
Serafina herself is a little spitfire and the perfect person really to investigate a magical crime. She’s gutsy and fierce and extremely protective of the manor and it’s inhabitants. This is Serafina’s stomping grounds, after all, and she doesn’t take kindly to strange figures in cloaks coming in and taking children. She is still, of course, a child and is scared at first.
I also love her dad. His devotion to his strange little daughter is wonderful and they have a great relationship. He’s probably one of the most selfless characters in the novel, especially when we find out about Serafina’s past and how he’s been protecting her all her life.
I’m not going to say too much on characters because I think I’m going to struggle to without giving much away. A lot of the adults are suspects, after all! But the man is the cloak is just so creepy which I must give props for. A lot of villains end up being kind of cheesy or over the top but this is managed perfectly. All the little details and his motivations – if skewed – are realistic.
One final note about Serafina herself: I like her journey. At first she is hidden in the basement and must never be seen by anyone. Not surprisingly, she’s a little lonely and imagines about being friends with other children. But towards the end, she makes her first real friend and finds her true place.
In this book, we have three distinct ‘worlds.’ The basement when Serafina starts the story, the grand estate of Biltmore and the dark and creepy forest outside. All three are wonderfully described and the people you encounter in them help capture the atmosphere. It’s interesting to watch Serafina traverse these three different settings, especially when she’s out of her element.
The magic side of things is woven in perfectly – we get hints of it before the man in the cloak even appears, with Serafina herself. It’s obvious she’s no ordinary little girl – who else can sneak up on rats? So we have a puzzle on our hands before the man in the cloak even turns up!
I have to admit, I love this world. Grand old estates and dark forests are just made for magic and the setting is perfect for a good mystery. You just want to keep reading to find out all the answers: where are the villagers vanishing to? What does the cloaked man want? What exactly is in that dark and foreboding forest?
You’ll have to read it to find out.
Completely loved this story and will be getting Serafina and the Twisted Staff ASAP. The only reason it doesn’t get the full five stars is because it is aimed at a younger audience than me. XD
Pros: Creepy atmosphere, lovable heroine, interesting cast and fantastic setting.
Cons: Braedon is a bit dull, you’ll probably guess the villain before the end, it’s too short! (that’s my own fault for being 25 and reading this book. XD)
Favourite character: Serafina (obviously)