Monday, 13 July 2015

Review: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Publication Date: July 14th 2015
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Length: 304 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley and Disney Hyperion for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

"Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there and they will ensnare your soul."
Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There's plenty to explore in the shadowed corridors of her vast home, but 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 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 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.

Serafina and the Black Cloak has a gorgeous cover, an intriguing premise and a lot of hype surrounding it already, so it’s been on my to read list for a while and I was thrilled to be offered a chance to read it early by Disney Hyperion.

There were a lot of things I loved about this book, but unfortunately there were quite a few that really didn’t work for me too. I loved Serafina, she’s a refreshing and engaging heroine, full of determination and courage and oddities that only serve to make her more intriguing. I loved watching the story play out and her discover her history, her family and herself.

I also loved seeing her relationship with Braedan develop. I know that it was in part because it’s a book aimed at younger readers that there was no romance, but it was really lovely to see an honest friendship develop between the two rather than any romantic undertones. I particularly loved them exploring Biltmore together and trying to gather clues to work out the mystery.

The magic elements were really well used. I loved Serafina’s emerging backstory, just as I was chilled by any scenes involving the Black Cloak. It was genuinely terrifying, and I shouldn’t have been reading this one at night! The introduction of the Black Cloak was a particularly frightening scene to read, and it really sets the tone of perilous terror against Serafina’s plucky determination and light. The magic is brilliantly different, horrifying and well used so that the story comes together cleverly and neatly by the end, offering a fun ride with a satisfying conclusion.

The things that didn’t work out so well were (as always) the lack of period appropriate language. It would be all fine for a while and then suddenly Serafina and co would be using modern language and slang and it’s just so frustrating when a book has been deliberately set in a specific time period and the language used then doesn’t match up. You could argue that it’s aimed at a middle grade readership, but then that doesn’t match up with some of the very adult language being used in places. I was actually really surprised at the level of language – in some places suitable for a twelve year old heroine and a middle grade reader, and then in others it would suddenly switch to a much more adult lexicon and it didn’t quite work with such a young protagonist.

I also found it frustrating how easy it was to spot who the culprit was. Maybe I’ve just read too many mystery books and I need to take a break for a while, because the culprit always seems blindingly obvious to me. There were some good attempts to throw the reader off with various shady characters, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to distract me.

The pacing was also rather off in places. There were some really great, tense scenes where I was tearing through the story, and then it would all slow down whilst Serafina described something, or mused on the world and her place in it for five or so pages, and I would find myself wanting to skim read to get through the overly verbose descriptions.

Those things aside though it was still a good book. It was engaging, and a fresh concept that worked really well, plus it had some truly terrifying and scary moments thrown in too. I think younger readers will enjoy this one much more than older readers, although be warned that it may cause fear of the dark and nightmares!