Serafina lives in the basement of the Biltmore with her Pa, who keeps the Biltmore’s machines up and running. Her entire existence is a secret from the “folks upstairs”, for fear they’ll be thrown out if anyone found out. It’s not so bad, though: Serafina naps all day in the sunshine, then prowls the halls at night as the Biltmore’s Chief Rat Catcher. One night, though, she witnesses a sinister man in a black cloak snatch away a young girl. Desperate to know who he is, and to prevent future disappearances, Serafina teams up with Braeden Vanderbilt (one of the aforementioned “folks upstairs”) to track down and stop the man in the black cloak.
I just loved this book, and tore through it and its sequel. There were lots of twists and turns that I actually didn’t see coming. *spoilers ahead* I started to guess pretty early on that Serafina was somehow related to cats (Loves hunting! Hates vegetables! Doesn’t get along with dogs!), but I wasn’t sure exactly how. I also lowkey became a shapeshifting conspiracy theorist. (Maybe Braeden is a wolf!) There were plenty of hints about what was going on with the man in the black cloak, and thankfully, Serafina didn’t take long to put 2 and 2 together. I hate it when you figure things out approx. 7.5 years before the book characters.
The setting was great, too: the Biltmore is in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Caroline, and the author really draws on the culture to flavor the story. Local dialects, legends, history… The story has a sense of place. Also, for a while it seemed like every book I read was set in NYC or California, so I’m always glad to see the South and Midwest get some page time. I also love that the mythology of the story isn’t drawn from some other country: English faeries, Greek gods and goddesses, etc. Instead, Beatty highlights and celebrates the traditions, lore, and culture of a fascinating part of the U.S.
Having lived in a basement literally her entire life, Serafina doesn’t have a whole lot of friends, so watching her get to know Braeden, and eventually others too, is just… really sweet. Plus, she’s a catamount! Catamounts are people that turn into various big cats, and that’s just really, really cool. *secretly wishing I was a catamount* Though her Pa lied to her about her background, Serafina tries to understand where he’s coming from, and at the end of the day, he’s still her #1, which was refreshing. Reasonable characters for the win.
So, in summary: cute story, original mythology, likable characters. Good stuff.
And just for fun, a reading playlist:
Blue Ridge Mountain, by Hurray for the Riff Raff
Wagon Wheel, by Old Crow Medicine Show
Wait So Long, by Trampled by Turtles
Adelaide, by the Green Cards
Codeine, by Trampled by Turtles
I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow, by the Soggy Bottom Boys (O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of my all-time favorite movies)
Railroad Blues, by Sam McGee
Omie Wise, by Doug Wallin
Happy reading, happy listening!