Serafina and the Splintered Heart by Robert Beatty has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the third book in the “Seraphina” series.
Twelve-year-old Serafina has always lived in the basement of the posh Biltmore Estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her father is the handyman in charge of fixing the new contraptions the 20th century is bringing their way. Serafina is the self-proclaimed protector of Biltmore and is a skilled hunter.
In earlier books, Serafina discovered her mother was a catamount who could transition between human and wildcat forms. She also met Waysa, a young catamount about her age. She befriended the Biltmore owner’s nephew, Braeden Vanderbilt. They battled an evil conjurer named Uriah with a long-time grudge against the Vanderbilts.
Uriah’s daughter, Rowena, had posed as a Biltmore guest and pretended to help Serafina and Braeden fight the evil attacks on the estate. Serafina accomplished one of her deepest longings when she was able to shapeshift into a panther and save Braeden. Book two ended with Serafina and Braeden, aided by Waysa, defeating Uriah and Rowena and enjoying life at Biltmore once again.
When this book opens, Serafina is confused. She wakes up in a coffin that is buried underground. Someone or something above helps her dig herself out, and she returns to Biltmore. It’s quickly evident she’s been away for quite a while. And when she tries to talk to Braeden, her Pa, or even Braeden’s beloved dog, Gideon, no one can hear her. She wonders if she’s dead, but she seems to be able to control the particles in the world around her to some degree. She discovers she can move dust by blowing on it. She also learns she can shapeshift into natural elements like water.
Serafina wonders what has happened to Braeden in her absence. He has a badly damaged leg and wears a brace. His mood is sour, and he shows no love to Gideon. She follows him one night when he sneaks out of the estate, and she’s devastated to see he has somehow remade the evil black cloak he and Serafina had destroyed in book one.
Back in the forest, Serafina sees a strange, cloaked figure in a lair full of potions and plants. She discovers it is her old enemy, Rowena. Rowena seems different. She no longer wears the fancy dresses and make-up she did when she stayed at Biltmore. She also seems downcast.
As Serafina watches her, Rowena senses Serafina’s presence. The two begin to talk, and Rowena thinks Serafina has returned for revenge. She shows Serafina a vision of the night she, Rowena, returned to Biltmore with the remade black cloak. Rowena had attacked Serafina, and Braeden came to Serafina’s rescue.
Serafina was badly injured in her panther form. With his power to cure animals, Braeden was able to heal her. But when Serafina shifted back into human form, there was nothing he could do to save her. He took her body to the old cemetery and buried her until he could figure out a way to put her back together. Rowena warns her that Uriah is coming back and is forcing her to help him destroy Biltmore and the surrounding forest. Serafina doesn’t know whether she can trust Rowena.
Serafina follows Braeden on another night, and he goes to the graveyard. Gideon digs up her coffin, and Braeden is surprised to see that all of the wounds on her corpse have healed. He credits the nearby angel statue with this miracle. Waysa arrives, and the two boys try to determine how to reunite Serafina with her physical body.
Knowing there is nothing they can do at this time, they part ways. Serafina knows her only hope of saving Biltmore and the people she loves is to give Rowena a chance. She and Rowena approach Braeden and then Waysa, convincing them Serafina is indeed in their presence in spirit form. Like Serafina, the boys are skeptical of Rowena.
Using Rowena as her mouthpiece, Serafina convinces them that they must all work together to defeat Uriah. Serafina, Braeden and Waysa are still reluctant when Rowena says she needs the black cloak, but they comply. Rowena uses it to restore Serafina to her physical body.
When natural disasters begin to plague the forest, the kids know Uriah is attacking. They decide that rather than wait for the evil sorcerer, they must find and fight him. But he is too strong for them, and he kills a number of forest animals in battle before escaping. Rowena is certain he will return.
The kids decide they must remake the black cloak and capture Uriah in it. At the last minute, Serafina sees Uriah and Rowena talking and becomes concerned that Rowena has returned to working for her father. Then Rowena and the others trap Uriah’s spirit in the black cloak and bury the evil garment. Now free of her violent father, Rowena is able to live as a protector of the forest.
Serafina’s mother visits, and Waysa says he intends to go find his people. Serafina and Braeden are once again able to relax and enjoy life at Biltmore, knowing they have rid the estate of Uriah for good.
Pa tells Serafina he believes the universe is one of God’s great machines. Mr. Vanderbilt had a parish church built in the forest so people from all walks of life could join him and his family in worship on Sundays.
Serafina frequently thinks about the way she is a trinity, made up of her human body, her spirit and her animal body. She can shapeshift into a panther and can also focus her mind to become earth or water. She struggles when she feels her trinity has been torn apart by the universe, and one of her main goals throughout the story is to restore it.
Rowena becomes an increasingly powerful sorceress and necromancer who practices the dark arts. She uses a process called scrying to show Serafina a vision of the past. She can speak to the spirits of the dead and those who dwell in between life and death. She and Uriah are both shapeshifters.
Serafina and her friends put their trust in each other and themselves. Serafina believes that only by trusting in her own soul, her own strength and her own wisdom will she be able to become who she was meant to be. The kids believe that through injury and rebirth, they are coming closer to their true selves and gaining new powers.
The black cloak is infused with evil magic and allows its wearer to steal people’s souls. When Braeden sees that the wounds on Serafina’s dead body are gone and that the corpse hasn’t started rotting, he praises the angel statue in the graveyard for healing and protecting her. Waysa says souls change, and a person can become more of who they are. His grandmother had called this phenomenon second birth.
Serafina asks Pa what she can hold on to when everything is changing. He says a person’s spirit stays the same throughout his life. All a person can hold on to is friends, family and this spirit flowing inside of him. As Serafina explores her new shapeshifting powers, she says she is made of the world, and the world is made of her.
Uriah mistreats Rowena, physically harming her with his magic. He forces her to help him carry out his evil plans. Serafina’s mother is a catamount, who can shift between human and animal form. She remains a wildcat because she was trapped in cat form for many years and now has cubs to raise. Serafina’s wise, loving Pa saved her from the forest when she was a baby. He offers her good advice on life. Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt are caring guardians to Braeden and show kindness to Serafina.
The Lord’s name is used in vain a couple of times. A number of scenes depict blood and scary imagery of battle, injury, death, terror and evil magic. Animals die when trying to help the kids fight Uriah. Uriah uses his magic to physically abuse Rowena.
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