By Robert Beatty Genre: Middle Grade Lit (mystery)
Reviewed by AB 5/5 stars
You probably wouldn’t expect that one of the pioneers of cloud computing, the Chief Technical Officer and Chairman of the Board at Narrative Magazine, and an entrepreneur in the field of robotics would care anything about writing children’s stories. But that’s exactly what Robert Beatty did when he began pursuing writing full-time in 2013.
#1 New York Times Bestsellers Serafina and the Black Cloak (2015) and its sequel Serafina and the Twisted Staff (2016) were born out of a love that Beatty and his family have for Asheville’s Biltmore Estate, America’s largest home.
Recently, I had the chance to attend a book signing for Serafina and the Twisted Staff (already in its second week on the New York Times Bestseller List) held at the Barnes and Noble on Woodruff Road in Greenville, SC. My 8-year-old daughter and 12-year-old niece were with me along with about 200 other young fans.
Mr. Beatty, who lives in nearby Asheville, NC, spoke briefly, answered questions, showed a trailer that he and his daughters had made for the second book, and signed hundreds of copies (including the 6 I had with me for all the founding members of The Shabby Coat Book Club). The excitement at the event was palpable and with good reason.
Set in 1899, these stories are great mysteries for ages 8-13, but my high school students and adult book friends who have read them can attest to how captivating they are for readers of all ages.
In Serafina and the Black Cloak, readers meet Serafina, an unusual 12-year-old girl living in the basement of Biltmore Estate with her father, who works on all of the state-of-the-art machinery – and is the only one who knows of her existence. Serafina has never talked with anyone but her father, and he has said in no uncertain terms that, besides staying hidden in the mansion, she is never to go into the forest that borders the estate. After a horrifying escape from a black-cloaked creature who has absconded with a little girl in a yellow dress, Serafina ends up trying to figure out why the children on the estate keep disappearing and who exactly is behind that black cloak.
I didn’t think it possible, but the sequel is even better. In book two, Serafina and the Twisted Staff, our young heroine faces an even greater challenge when all of the animals in the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains begin migrating elsewhere as if their lives depend on it. In her quest to discover what new evil ravages the land around the estate, Serafina discovers more about who she is and what makes her so special, all while attempting to maintain her friendship with Braeden, the Vanderbilt’s nephew.
Beatty’s style brings to mind all the best in popular fantasy literature (think the approachability of Rowling and the descriptiveness of Tolkien) set in one of the most beautiful places in the country —the Appalachian Mountains. Readers who are familiar with the region will be pleased with the
topographical details and the mystical atmosphere that characterize southern Appalachia, otherwise know as God’s country (Is my bias that obvious?).
Natalie, Meg, and I absolutely love these stories. They are excellent choices for both avid readers and those who need a little encouragement beyond assigned school reading. The books rely heavily on plot (edge of your seat here, folks), but Serafina is a well-developed character who seeks to reconcile her desire to obey her father (who wishes only to protect her) with her insatiable need to help others. In both books, Serafina’s kindness and bravery in the face of truly terrifying circumstances prove inspirational to readers of all ages.
A Word of Caution: Younger or more sensitive readers may find parts of the story frightening or too intense; but don’t let that deter you from reading these yourself (and saving for your little ones) – or even better, reading these with them.
Serafina and the Black Cloak and Serafina and the Twisted Staff easily qualify as literary gems, and we think you will agree.
Purchase Serafina and the Black Cloak and/or Serafina and the Twisted Staff.
Read our exclusive interview with Robert Beatty.
View the trailers for book 1 and book 2.
Read a sample chapter from the first book.
Visit Robert Beatty online or on Facebook.
This post contains affiliated links.