Serafina and the Twisted Staff

Written by Robert Beatty
Review by Lorraine Norwood

In 1899, twelve-year-old Serafina, Chief Rat Catcher for the Biltmore estate and the daughter of shapeshifting mountain lions (or catamounts), must fight an evil threatening all the humans and animals of the Blue Ridge Mountains—even at great risk to her own life.

This story begins a few short months after the dramatic events of the first book in the series, Serafina and the Black Cloak. After living secretly in the basement of the Biltmore House, Serafina is now known to the household and struggles to find her place among the staff and family. At night she continues her duties as rat catcher and explores the deep woods surrounding the estate where her catamount mother and half-siblings live.

Having been raised by Pa, her surrogate father, she is caught between two worlds. She wonders how she fits in; she’s too wild to be a lady at the elegant estate and too human to join the catamounts. Late one night, she encounters a strange and terrifying figure, and is attacked by vicious wolfhounds. She meets a feral boy, Waysa, who reveals that the humans and animals of the Blue Ridge Mountains are in terrible danger from a sinister force. As malevolent magic descends on the beautiful forests of Western North Carolina, Serafina must fight for her life and for the people and creatures she loves. When she comes face-to-face with the evil infecting Biltmore, she discovers the danger is far greater than she’d ever imagined. To save her beloved home, she must fight—and defeat—forces far beyond her own strength.

Beatty’s series is aimed at middle-graders, an age group perfectly suited to the story of a brave female heroine struggling with her place in the world. The novel is intense, fast-paced, and well-plotted.