Serafina and the Twisted Staff by Robert Beatty has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the second book in the “Serafina” series.
The year is 1899. Twelve-year-old Serafina lives in the basement of the posh Biltmore Estate with her pa, the handyman. She has always enjoyed prowling at night, keeping the property safe from rats and other vermin. In the first book of the series, she discovered her cat-like reflexes were actually in her blood. She learned her mother was a catamount, able to shift between wildcat and human form. She finally met her mother, who had been trapped for years in animal form and had two cubs. She also met Braeden Vanderbilt, the nephew of the estate’s owner. Braeden had a way with animals, and he and Serafina became friends. Together, they helped stop a man in a black cloak from kidnapping young guests at Biltmore and stealing their souls.
Book two begins a few weeks after Serafina and Braeden destroyed the black cloak. Serafina is proud of her job as protector of Biltmore. But strange things are happening in the forest nearby. Serafina has seen some unfamiliar people and strange animal behavior. She believes some sort of evil is taking over the area.
Serafina finds herself in vicious battles with several types of animals that are uncommon to these woods or are usually tame. Braeden’s normally friendly dog, Gideon, attacks her before almost falling to his death inside Biltmore. A young guest, Lady Rowena, claims to have witnessed Serafina trying to kill the dog. A crowd of onlookers gawks as Braeden tries to comfort the broken, dying Gideon. Serafina flees into the forest, unsure of what to do or how to prove her innocence.
In the woods, she finds her wildcat mother and half-siblings, along with a catamount boy named Waysa. She considers staying with them, but her mother tells her the forest is too dangerous for a human. Both Serafina and her mother had hoped Serafina would develop the ability to shape-shift into a catamount as well. But Mother’s lessons have yielded no such results.
After Serafina is attacked in the forest by animals, she decides her mother is right. She becomes increasingly convinced that the strange animal behavior she’s seeing is backed by evil forces. When she returns to the estate, she convinces Braeden as well. She is surprised to discover Gideon is still alive.
Lady Rowena has taken to spending time with Braeden. Her aloof personality and wealthy air make Serafina uncomfortable. She and Braeden convince Rowena to work with them to uncover whatever evil is overtaking Biltmore. The kids are particularly suspicious of an investigator named Grathan, who has recently arrived and is asking questions about the black cloak.
Serafina leads Mr. Vanderbilt and some of his men to an old graveyard in the woods, where she’s discovered numerous caged animals. Wild animals attack the search party, and it scatters. This is enough to convince Mr. Vanderbilt something is wrong and to suspect Grathan.
Serafina and Braeden search old Biltmore records and find a photo of a man Serafina has seen in the woods. They learn his name was Uriah, and he caused trouble when Biltmore was first being constructed. He had vowed at the time to burn down the place and destroy everyone.
Further evidence leads Serafina to believe Uriah is behind the current chaos, and Braeden is one of his intended targets. She follows Grathan and witnesses his death by snakebite. She realizes he really was an investigator, a man who tracked occult-related happenings. Lady Rowena appears on the scene and reveals she and Uriah, her father, are working together to destroy Biltmore with their evil magic.
Braeden arrives and tries to help Serafina. When he’s injured and weak, Rowena and the wolfhounds at her command put him in a carriage and try to kidnap him. Serafina uses all of her will to become a wildcat and save him. Braeden gets the enchanted twisted staff Rowena and Uriah have conjured, and he uses it to drive them from the area.
After spending some time with her mother, half-siblings and Waysa, she and Braeden return to Biltmore. Braeden, Serafina and other Biltmore workers free and care for the caged animals Uriah had planned to use. Serafina attends a lavish party with Braeden, learns Mrs. Vanderbilt is pregnant and vows to be even more watchful as Biltmore’s protector.
Serafina’s father tells her to bless the Lord and get on with things rather than feel sorry for herself. Serafina suggests the mountains, rivers and human beings had been God’s dream millions of years ago.
Serafina and the people of the mountains believe in demons, black magic and other good and evil forces in the forest. The kids are convinced evil and black magic forces are at work at Biltmore Estate. Uriah is a shape-shifter who has honed his powers so he can control the forest. He is a conjurer of the dark arts and uses curses and spells to carry out his plans. Mr. Grathan is an investigator of occult happenings. Braeden discovers his own power over animals, including the ability to heal them.
Pa is a hard worker and loving father, who has learned to believe Serafina’s wild theories. Mr. Vanderbilt takes Serafina’s word about the animals in the forest, even though it seems like a far-fetched story. Uriah forces his daughter to join him in his evil schemes.
The Lord’s name is used in vain. H— also appears. Serafina has many bloody battles with animals who attack violently. Braedon’s beloved dog lies bloody and dying after he attacks Serafina and falls from a great height. Wolfhounds attack and drag Braeden. Rattlesnakes attack and kill Mr. Grathan.
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