Serafina lives in the basement of Biltmore Estate with her pa, staying out of the sight of the rich folk who live upstairs, and heeding her pa's warning to always stay out of the encircling forest. Her pa does maintenance work for the rich Vanderbilts who own the estate, but they don't know Serafina exists. She spends her time prowling the basement and systematically catching the estate's rats. Only occasionally does she venture upstairs to stare around, unnoticed, at the opulence of the Vanderbilts and their guests, or borrow an unattended book from their vast library.
But when Serafina sees a stranger in the basement--a stranger who wraps his slithering black cloak around a girl from upstairs and subsumes her--Serafina knows she must tell someone what she saw. And when her pa doesn't believe her, Serafina has no choice but to break the rules she's followed all her life and venture upstairs to find someone who will. And she does: she finds Braeden, the Vanderbilts' nephew.
Serafina knows she has to find the Man in the Black Cloak before he takes more children, and as she gets to know Braeden she discovers he feels the same. Their search will take them out of Biltmore and into the forbidden forest, full of strange, dark magic and whispering secrets. Can Serafina and Braeden discover the Man in the Black Cloak's identity before more children are taken--or will one of them be his next victim?
Serafina and the Black Cloak is an atmospheric novel full of mystery, secrets, and dark magic. Set in the late 1800s at Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, where the Vanderbilts really lived, this book feels as though it captures both the historical and regional setting in a really cool way. I loved Serafina's determination and personality, and she constantly surprised me in the best possible ways. This book is part-fantasy and part-mystery, as Braeden and Serafina are searching for the identity of the Man in the Black Cloak, but it also shares its touch of creepiness/horror with books such as The Sisters of Straygarden Place and A Path Begins, so if you've liked either of those, I think this could also be enjoyable. I recommend Serafina and the Black Cloak to readers ages ten and up who enjoy dark historical fantasy full of questions and mysteriousness.
Note: Check out our interview with the author of Serafina and the Black Cloak, Robert Beatty!