It’s been quite a while since our last double dip so I hope your condiment of choice isn’t on the turn, but even if it is, you’ll have to buck up, grab a cracker and plunge on in with me. Today I have a middle-grade spooky adventure and a YA ghostly trial for your dipping pleasure. I received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley. Let’s take a dip!
First up, for the middle-graders (and the middle-grade-at-heart) we have Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
“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 Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in the shadowed corridors of her vast home, but 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 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 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.
…a fast-paced story that combines some familiar fantasy tropes with some satisfyingly original elements. The villainous and merciless owner of the cloak actually comes across as pretty terrifying and there is a twist in this tale that I certainly didn’t expect. Young readers who enjoy a bit of darkness in their adventure tales will find new and creepy delights in this one.
Don’t dip if…
…you’re looking for a fantasy/paranormal tale with a simple plot. There are quite a few competing mysteries here, from the question of who the cloaked child-stealer actually is, to why Serafina must not be seen by the owners of the big house. This makes for quite a hefty story, so if you’re looking for a light, fluffy romp, this might be too heavy.
Overall Dip Factor:
Two elements of this tale stood out for me as particularly original and engaging. The initial chapters, in which Serafina (and the reader) first stumble across the man in the Black Cloak are genuinely spine-tingling and the fate of the missing children is an immediate puzzle. Also, the twist at the end of the book, in which Serafina finds out some important information about her past, gave an original and unexpected boost to the resolution of the story. These elements lifted this one out of the common herd for me and should provide a bit of solace to world-weary readers of MG fantasy.
Now, for a marginally older audience, we have Girlgoyle by Better Hero Army. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Tiffany Noboru has just awaken from her death, only to be drafted into the Gargoyle Ghost Hunter Corps. Soon she is fighting jealous rivalries within her own ranks, struggling to unravel the mystery of her recent death, and trying to avoid being killed a second time by a maniacal ghost named Bones who is seeking the destruction of the gargoyle world.
In this full-length novel, appropriate for teens and young adults, a new twist on the role of gargoyles is imaginatively brought to life in spellbinding fashion. Woven in are twenty original works of art by Miimork, which breathe life into its ghostly pages.
Dip into it for…
…Gargoyles! Obviously. This is a unique take on the “afterlife” fantasy sub-genre and while the world-building is a little confusing at times (due in part to Tiffany’s own confusion over her untimely death) it’s not something you see every day. The first half of the book focuses on Tiffany unravelling the mystery of where she is (and learning how to fly!) and there’s plenty of action in the second half of the book, during which Tiffany and her fellow gargoyles attempt to bring low a seriously unhappy ghost and his army.
Don’t dip if…
…you’re looking for something pacey, with a recognisable fantasy world. Because the gargoyley afterlife is such a different concept, a fair bit of time is devoted to steeping the reader in its workings and this does result in a slow start to the story. The pace does pick up eventually, but the leisurely pace in the beginning may put some readers off.
Overall Dip Factor:
This was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed the appearance of gargoyles in such a surprising and unexpected world, but I did feel a bit all at sea during the initial world-building phase. The artworks throughout the book really added to the reading experience, and I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Tiffany learning how to fly (and plummet!). I suspect this might appeal to a niche market of fantasy fans looking for a twist on the angel/demon dichotomy.
So there you have it. Wipe the corn-chip dust of your hands and add these little gems to your TBR!
Until next time,