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NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A R Y RE V I E W

COURTESY OF NORTH CAROLINA COLLECTION PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVES, WILSON LIBRARY, UNC CHAPEL HILL

THE BILTMORE’S UNLIKELY HERO a review by Teresa Bryson Robert Beatty. Serafina and the Black Cloak. New York: Disney Hyperion, 2015.

A native of southern Pennsylvania, TERESA BRYSON received her BA in English with a concentration in writing from Shippensburg University and her MA in English with a creative writing concentration from East Carolina University. While at ECU, she served as an NCLR editorial assistant and began work on her first novel. She has also served as a national spokesperson and educator for the American Beekeeping Federation. ROBERT BEATTY is a New York Times bestselling author of the popular children’s series Serafina, which has won the prestigious 2016 Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize. The latest installment of the series, Serafina and the Splintered Heart (Disney Hyperion, 2017), recently earned a starred review in Kirkus Reviews. Beatty currently lives with his wife and three daughters in Asheville, NC.

The Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt’s summer home in Asheville, NC, was completed in 1896. The Biltmore’s location in the Blue Ridge Mountains made it an ideal place for the Vanderbilts to escape from the city, host important and influential guests, and have parties. It is also an ideal setting for Robert Beatty’s debut mystery/ thriller novel for young readers, Serafina and the Black Cloak. Twelve-year-old Serafina, daughter of the Biltmore’s electrician, has lived in the basement behind the boiler for as long as she can remember. Her days are filled with exploring the estate and grounds, and her nights are occupied with completing her job as Biltmore’s C.R.C. (Chief Rat Catcher). The job, assigned to her by her father, is one she takes very seriously and she prides herself on keeping the kitchen rat free. Aside from her nightly duties, Serafina is free to do as she pleases, but her father has two rules that she must always follow, no matter what. She is not ever to go into the dark woods that surround the Biltmore,

especially at night, and she must not let anyone, other than her father, see her. If she is seen, she must not, under any circumstances, say who she is or where she lives. “Sometimes she liked to imagine what she would say if she met Mrs. Vanderbilt face-to-face. Hello, Mrs. V. I catch your rats for you. Would you like them killed or just chucked out? Sometimes she dreamed of wearing fancy dresses and ribbons . . . sometimes, she longed not just to listen secretly to the people around her, but to talk to them” (12–13). The rules have kept Serafina safe but she longs for friendship, to speak to the children that visit the Biltmore, to be seen. Serafina’s safe but lonely life is forever changed when she hears men’s dress shoes clicking against the basement floor. Curious as to who is disturbing her nightly duties, she follows the footsteps and sees a man dressed in a black cloak floating a few inches above the floor. Serafina witnesses the man snatch – and the cloak absorb – one of the

ABOVE The Louis XVI Room, Biltmore House & Gardens (made in

Switzerland by Atelier Graphique H. Vontobel, Feldmeilen), Asheville, NC

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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