My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As a middle grade/children’s story Serafina and Black Cloak is obviously not meant for me. I’m most definitely not the target audience. But, do you know what, I liked it a lot. It’s very well written, has an exciting story that keeps you engaged throughout and a wonderful cast of characters. I loved it and I think it’s a tale that kids will love too.
While I read a lot of YA books I tend to steer clear of stories for younger children. I’ve found in the past that I just don’t get them, they read that little bit too young for me (unsurprisingly). However when I saw the cover and read the description of Serafina and the Black Cloak I couldn’t resist. It really is one of the prettiest covers I’ve come across and while I know you shouldn’t choose books on that basis sometimes I can’t resist and believe it or not I think the cover does actually give you a good feel for what the story is like.
The story follows Serafina, a 12 year old girl who lives with her pa in a very grand house owned by the Vanderbilts. She doesn’t get to meet the rich people upstairs however as her pa keeps her hidden away in the basement. She creeps around the house but keeps out of sight at all times, something she’s become very good at. It’s a lonely life and she longs for friends but her pa has given her the very important job of C.R.C. (chief rat catcher) to keep her busy.
One night when she’s out hunting rats she hears footsteps and comes across a man in a black cloak. He’s chasing a young girl through the basement. Despite her fear, Serafina tries to help the girl but ends up witnessing her disappearance into the very sinister cloak before having to run to save herself. When her pa doesn’t believe her she tries to find someone else in the house who’ll listen to her tale and ends up telling Braeden, the nephew of the Vanderbilts.
As another child disappears each night and the adults can’t solve the mystery it’s up to Serafina and Braeden to try to track down the man in the cloak. However when it seems the man is after Braeden, Serafina has to take matters into her own hands to save her only friend. This leads to a journey into the forest, where her father has always forbidden her to go, and the discovery of some secrets about her past.
Despite the storyline being very dark in places I thought that at it’s core this was a very sweet and heart warming tale. Serafina is such a lovable character. She’s lived a very lonely life with only her pa for company so she’s desperate to make a friend but is very self conscious and feels like there’s something wrong with her. She knows there’s something that makes her different from everyone else (why else would her father hide her away) and worries that she might be bad in some way. Despite this however she doesn’t hide when someone needs help. She takes that big brave step and puts herself out there even though she knows she could get in trouble and that people may not believe her.
What she finds however is a possible friend in Braeden. He’s an orphan and also a bit of an outsider who prefers animals to people but he actually sees and listens to Serafina. I thought the relationship between them was just sooo sweet. Both are lonely and neither seems to know what it’s like to have a friend but despite a very tentative start they quickly become attached to each other.
I absolutely loved the way the author wrote the relationship between them and in fact the writing was probably the highlight of the whole book. While I often find children’s books a little too simple and superficial this is not the case here. The writing is simple but somehow very powerful and packed full of emotion and feeling. The descriptions and dialogue are excellent and you get a real sense of atmosphere. The pacing is pretty much spot on and the author manages to generate some real edge of the seat tension in places. I have a feeling this is a book that would work well being read aloud and I could almost imagine the words being spoken.
It’s a very difficult story to talk about without spoilers but there is a lot of action and mystery which keep you hooked. It’s a little bit of a twisty tale and while I guessed the truth fairly early on (it is meant for children so it would have been worrying if I hadn’t) it’s enjoyable to watch the characters uncover the secrets and get to the truth.
Overall a great story with fantastic writing. Definitely one I’d recommend for young (and not so young readers).
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for a review.