Ahoy there me mateys! This was another audiobook that I picked up because it takes place at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina and because of the wonderful cover:
I loved the setting of the book. I visited the Biltmore Estate as a younger human and had so much fun there. Both the house and the grounds are exciting. The house has 250 rooms, 3 kitchens, 43 bathrooms, an indoor pool, and was wired for electricity. The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same guy who designed Central Park in NYC. Though part of the house is a museum, it is still a privately owned residence with some of the Biltmore descendants living there. I thought that it was clever to set a mystery story in an historic house with so many possibilities.
Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority with this book and am rather disappointed in it. To be fair, I thought the setup and introduction to Serafina was exciting. Serafina herself is a fun character. Yes she has four toes on each foot and her bones are not formed in a typical fashion but she is clever, feisty, smart, and curious. I loved the mystery surrounding her. She was abandoned in the woods and raised by the maintenance man for the Estate. She and her adopted father have been living in the house basement for over a decade and yet no one knows of her existence. But then Serafina discovers something that changes her life forever.
Ye see in this book, children are being stolen from the Biltmore estate. Serafina is the only one who knows the man in the black cloak took them. But who is the man in the black cloak? And can Serafina overcome her fears to help stop him?
While I did love watching Serafina’s self-discovery, I did not love the plot, the other characters, or the conclusion to the mystery. Once the bad man is introduced, the plot came to a halt. Serafina does a lot of waffling. The tone of her internal monologues kept changing in style and diction. The story does a lot of meandering to no purpose. The other characters are extremely one dimensional. The Vanderbilts, George and Edith, were actual historical figures but came across as benign cardboard cutouts. I was also annoyed that the author made up Serafina’s friend, Braeden Vanderbilt and gave him a tragic backstory so Serafina and he could bond. And the differences in their social classes were handled in such a lazy and unrealistic fashion.
And then ye have a child growing up in a house of wonders for the time and those specific traits of the Biltmore house were not used enough. Electricity does play a significant role in the story. But what hidden child wouldn’t want to use the indoor pool or bowling alley? Cool features like these weren’t even mentioned. Serafina’s secret forays into the upstairs of the house also felt unrealistic and confusing. Seriously she should have been caught at some point!
The ending was abrupt and lackluster. The mystery of the cloaked man was not really that interesting after all. The final duel was laughable. And the explanation of what happened to the mystery children and the consequences of their disappearance made no sense. Even the answer to Serafina’s mystery was convenient and rather boring.
The book should have been a better tribute to a terrific protagonist. It fell flat. But it does seem beloved and was on the NY Times bestseller list for 45 weeks. Perhaps ye will like it. I just don’t get the hype. For me this one walks the plank! Arrrr!
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
“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 the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although 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 the 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, one 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.
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