Seraphina and the Black Cloak

Girls are well-mannered, bright; when they enter they light up a room. They wear beautiful dresses, are clean, well groomed, and very much liked. They are treasured, the center of attention, talented and poised and lovely. Pretty. Polite.

But not Seraphina.

Seraphina is a wild thing. She lives in the dark. She’s strange, thin and wiry, dirty and disheveled, unkempt. She’s not very talented, or so she thinks, but she does have a job: Baltimore Estate’s C.R.C. at your service. As Chief Rat Catcher extraordinaire, Seraphina knows how to sniff out a vermin or two.

And there is a rat at Baltimore Estate.

A man, a wraith, in a magical black cloak is taking talented young girls, and Seraphina is determined to stop him.

But there’s a problem. Well, several problems, but two really stand out. Her Pa doesn’t believe her, for one. No one would seem to, for what adult would believe in an otherworldly specter kidnapping children by means of an enchanted cloak?

And the second is no one but her Pa knows Seraphina exists.

Seraphina’s life is a secret; she has spent all her days hidden from the light. While all the rich folk upstairs have parties and dance and laugh under the wealthy owners of Baltimore Estate’s roof, the esteemed Vanderbilts, Seraphina lives in the basement, coming out only at night. She snatches books from the library, watches from the shadows, lingers and darts between the corners and nooks of her small world. Raised solely by her Pa, Seraphina’s mother is an enigma, and her Pa never speaks of her. Indeed, the secret resident of Baltimore lives a rather lonely life, never having had a single friend, but when she meets Braeden Vanderbilt, the Vanderbilt’s nephew, all that changes. Seraphina has a lot of questions, and a lot to give, but her Pa has warned her, to never reveal herself, never let anyone know of her existence, and to never, ever, go into the deep forest alone.

Needless to say, there is a lot of mystery going on at Baltimore Estate.

23507745“I don’t want to here any talk ’bout that,” he interrupted her, shaking his head. She could see in the tightness of his mouth how upset her questions made him. “You’re my little girl,” he said, “That’s what I believe.”

“But in the forest – ” she began

“No.” he cut her off, “I don’t want you to think about that. You live here. With me. This is your home. I’ve told ya before, and I’ll tell ya again, Sera: our world is filled with many mysteries, things we don’t understand. Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, both dark and bright, and they will ensnare your soul.”

As you have probably guessed, Seraphina breaks all the rules. Joining forces with Braeden, the two of them decide the adults aren’t on the right track, and will never believe in the dark magic that is clearly overtaking Baltimore, so the two young heroes take matters into their own hands, each using their own unique talents to help solve the mystery, and save the children who have been taken by the Man in the Black Cloak.

To go straight into it, this book is pretty darn marvelous. Great writing, a spooky mystery, and finely wrought characters. Seraphina is courageous, bold, daring, sharp-as-a-tack and keen, possessing instincts that would make Sherlock proud. Her and Braeden’s relationship is fast forming, but honest; there is a special affinity going on here. Braeden and Seraphina both grew up feeling different, and separated from the world. But together they make each other stronger, and confident in themselves. Braeden shows Seraphina that her strangeness is not bad, but good and special, and Seraphina reveals to Braeden that his unique talents are worthy, and a wonderful gift to be shared and relished in. I particularly liked Seraphina’s protectiveness of Braeden in this story; Braeden is clearly the more sensitive of the two, and Seraphina’s fierce loyalty and bravery really shined through in this guardian role.

There are actually two story arcs going on in this book: that of the mystery of the Man in the Black Cloak and the missing children, and Seraphina’s personal journey of self-discovery and the un-shadowing of her past. They meld well, the Man in the Black Cloak becoming a catalyst for Seraphina’s liberation, and her choices and acts of heroism lead Seraphina out of the dark and into the light.


Many of the descriptions and imagery are wonderfully eerie, befitting its frightening and somewhat macabre theme, and for a children’s book, it is splendidly thrilling, even scary! Robert Beatty does a fine job rending a dark and wild forest, a chilling cat and mouse game, and is quite good at knowing when to pull the thread tight and when to give slack. The action is fast paced; one minute you’re preparing to set down the book and fetch a snack, the next minute leaving the pages behind is unthinkable—for everything is suddenly happening now and oh my ah! It’s a page-turner, so you might possibly want to prepare yourself a night to be devoted to it. (I have self-control problems when it comes to reading though, so a couple days or, if you’re a Savor Reader, a week will probably do.)

I liked this book. I loved this book. I cared about Seraphina, and was internally (and sometimes externally) cheering her on, wanting her to succeed, wanting her to find her courage and her place in this world. Like so many of us growing up, Seraphina wants to be someone different, someone who fits in and is of that quintessential aura that the world often insists girls should be. But Seraphina is not that girl. And through her journey, she comes to realize that is her strength. She rises to the occasion, forges her own path, trusts in herself, and in the end comes out a heroine, mighty and powerful in her own special way.

There is much to enjoy in Seraphina and the Black Cloak. Pick it up. It would be a good Halloween read. Full of twists, turns, mystery, and friendship, courage, and redemption, what is not to love? Give it to your son or daughter, niece or nephew, or yourself! It’s 1899 at Baltimore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, and something dangerous is afoot. Evil is lurking in the corridors of Baltimore… Children are disappearing, the darkness encroaching. All is seeming quite hopeless. But, there is a secret weapon you have, and she lives in the night.

And her name is Seraphina.


Five out of five stars.

Clever criminals of London, beware! The Wollstonecraft Detectives are on the case!

The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, The Case of the Missing Moonstone, is a delightful mystery read, and a definite thumbs up for sleuth girls and boys everywhere.

Eleven year old Lady Ada Byron (genius, social-awkward, recluse) is not having a very good day. Everything is changing, and Ada doesn’t take well to change; her old caretaker, Miss Coverlet, is leaving, Percy, or ‘Peebs’ the new tutor is annoying, and Misses Cabbage and Cummerbund (no, Arugula and Aubergine?) are mucking up Ada’s routine, which she has become most accustomed to. The only things in Ada’s small world she has left are her loyal silent butler, Mr. Franklin, her hot air balloon, and of course her dear, inanimate books. The Outside has come knocking, and Ada isn’t ready; being eleven and a genius is hard and strangely confusing. But someone has to do/be it.

Good thing Mary Godwin is at the door.

Mary Godwin: Fourteen, curious, adventuresome, entirely brave and very kind and romantic (though, not in a smoochy way), is on her way by carriage, unchaperoned, sitting across from a mysterious boy pretending not to be there, to the house of the great, dead poet Lord Byron, to be tutored alongside an actual, real life Lady.


Well, imaginative Mary Godwin thinks so.

When Ada and Mary meet, it is not exactly friendship at first sight. However, Mary in time wins Ada over, and the two fall steadfast into friendship. Mary takes her studies with Peebs seriously; Ada reads the newspaper (a sudden fascination—the world at her fingertips without ever having to leave her cocoon! Marvelous!), but a lot of rubbish is in the newspaper. Contradictory, poorly researched, rubbish. But one thing is interesting: Crime. Why wouldn’t crime be interesting to a genius eleven year old Lady? But criminals aren’t terribly clever, Ada deduces. At least, not the ones in the newspaper. However, the criminals that manage to escape the newspaper are surely clever. But, are they cleverer than girl genius Ada?

kelly-murphy-wollstonecraft-detective-agency[Ada] pondered. “So the newspaper criminals are the not-clever ones, and the ones that aren’t in the newspaper must be clever.”

“Not as clever as you, I’m sure.” said Mary.

“Probably not,” admitted Ada. She wasn’t boasting; it was just very likely to be true.

“I imagine,” said Mary, her mind returning to her book, “that you could apprehend quite a few criminals. Being more clever than they.”

And so the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency is born.

Now of course, being young girls makes being a detective agency difficult, but this book is all about defying social norms and expectations. These are two savvy girls who think for themselves, face danger, and solve crimes! Pooh on expectations! Bring on the mystery! When Mary and Ada’s first case, involving a stolen heirloom and fishy suspects, shows up on the girls’ doorstep, they aren’t expecting the mesmerizing rollercoaster ride of intrigue and surprises. But working together, and overcoming problems with teamwork and tolerance of each other’s differences, the girls work some young magic, and take the reader along for the ride!

This is a good book, and a great book for children—boys and girls.

It is clear that the target audience is for girls, hoping to spread some empowerment and self-agency. After all, we still live in a pretty patriarchal world; Jordan Stratford has been inspired by the little ladies in his life, and wants to give them a voice, that involves wits and smarts and nothing smoochy. This is great, as there is indeed a lackluster amount of lady geniuses in literature. But constantly striving to empower the impressionable girls in our lives and neglecting to educate the boys is counterintuitive; get this book for your sleuth son, too. The purple cover may dispel any enthusiasm he might have had, so read it to him. On that point, read it to all your kids! It’s fun, festooned with great imagery, and full of vocabulary to fill your kid’s head up with. (Clandestine and gondola and fishmonger—oh my!)

I’ll also add that the illustrations in this book are lovely. Kelly Murphy’s detailed yet whimsical pencil fashion is wonderful, adding to the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency’s charm. The pictures are a perfect accompaniment to Jordan Stratford’s style, and Kelly Murphy captures the characters and the feel of old London fetchingly. It won me over entirely.


Ada and Mary are great heroines, each unique in their own way and not at all perfect. Ada is rude and sometimes downright unpleasant; Mary is compassionate but not always so bright. Their internal narratives are accurate to their ages, which I particularly appreciated. Lots of writers when they pen out kid geniuses often tend to forget that they are still children—but not Jordan Stratford. Ada Byron is eleven, and it shows. Emotions are messy and selfishness sometimes abounds, but that is okay, because Mary is there to help. The side characters are all enjoyable, with their own special stories and backgrounds. Just enough for a full narrative but not too much; this is a children’s book, people. Relax and enjoy the adventure.

photo-originalNow, is this a 100% show-stopping book that every kid needs on their shelf and all the books hereafter? No. The beginning is a slight bit slow and sometimes the dialogue gets a tad circle-like (get on with it!), and the story in and of itself is plain, and nothing exceptional. It’s a kids mystery. This isn’t A Wrinkle in Time, here. (But really, this isn’t fair, because could anything ever be?) But, a worthy book, and a worthy beginning to a (dare I say?) great children’s book series? Absolutely. What is especially great is the actual history interwoven into this book. Some of you may have noticed, but there are some pretty impressive figures laced into this work: Ada and Mary? Wollstonecraft? Byron? Ah yes, some of you have surely picked up upon who these two bright-young-crime-solving ladies are. But I won’t spoil the fun. If you’re so curious, I suggest some investigation, and maybe a bit of Wikipedia searching. If you read this book, you’ll certainly have a bit of an itch for solving some mysteries.

Give the Wollstonecraft Detectives a try. Are you a boy? Girl? Investigator? Or maybe you’re like me; an upper twenty’s something that never outgrew her Pippi Longstockings and just likes a good adventure for the weekend.

The end of this book is something special. I’d recommend it.

Four out of Five Stars for The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, the Case of the Missing Moonstone. Go get’em, girls.