Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Serafina and the Black Cloak

Since I live in East Tennessee, Biltmore House in North Carolina is a nearby tourist destination. I have visited several times and marveled at the luxuries available for the family and their guests- including a bowling alley and indoor pool. I've also seen some of the servant's quarters and areas like the kitchen. But the areas Serafina and her father are most familiar with down in the basement and mechanical rooms, are places that I've never seen. Serafina's father helped to build Biltmore and then stayed to tend the machines that keep it running, like the dynamo that provides electricity for the lights and modern conveniences. Unlike the other workers with families, he has chosen to live down in the boiler room (without permission) and he has his daughter hidden away down there with him. He constantly warns her that she must stay hidden, not draw attention to herself, and stay out of the forest around the estate.


Serafina is most active at night, preferring to come out while everyone is asleep and hunt for rats. (She catches them and then carries them out and throws them into the forest.) But one night, she hears something strange and following the noise, she becomes the witness to an attack on a young girl by a figure in a black cloak. The sinister figure tries to catch Serafina, but she manages to escape using her knowledge of the nooks and crannies of the house. Although her father thinks this is one of her fanciful stories or a nightmare, they learn the next day that the daughter of a guest has disappeared. Serafina is determined to find someone who will believe her and help her learn the identity of the dark figure.

Eventually she meets the Vanderbilt's nephew, Braeden, and they become an unlikely pair of friends. They both witness the figure attacking a young groom named Nolan and Braeden tells her of another guest whose daughter disappeared from the gardens. As readers make their way through the story, they may begin to notice the clues that lead Serafina to identify the villain, and they may also put together the hints of Serafina's own origins. 

Although most of the action centers in the mansion itself, some scenes take place in the forest around the estate (including some spooky moments in an abandoned cemetery). There are plenty of details provided about the house and its furnishings, the clothing of the staff and guests, and even examples of the range of people who were invited there. For middle grade readers (or older) who enjoy the world of Downton Abbey, this would be a similar world.

I really enjoyed how the story wove history, period detail, local legends, and fantasy elements together. Serafina is an heroine full of life and courage, even when she is frightened for herself and others. I also liked the friendship the grew between her and Braeden, overcoming the class distinctions and showing the commonalities between individuals no matter what their background. My favorite quote from the book is, "Our character isn't defined by the battles we win or lose, but by the battles we dare to fight." Serafina is definitely a daring character.

If you enjoy historical fiction, mysteries, fantasy, or combinations of those themes - you should give this book a try. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

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