Last year I read Seraphina and the Twisted Staff to my daughter. It took much longer to read it aloud than it did to read the previous book to myself, but I think she enjoyed it, especially the voices since I tried to do different accents – southern for Seraphina, British for Lady Rowena, etc.
Young adult fantasy doesn’t always appeal to me, especially historical fantasy – I’m more interested in adult themes. This book was very enjoyable for me even though it is about a pre-teen girl. She is a catamount: an elusive feline creature of the mountains that shape-shifts into a human. Mountain cats once roamed these forests, but have not been seen for about a hundred years. I had heard of legends regarding them shape shifting before Seraphina, but that came up with talking to an Appalachian folklorist.
Here are four reasons that I loved about Seraphina and the Twisted Staff.
1 – Trail of Tears
Arguably the worst blemish on American history is the treatment of Native Americans. From George Washington’s State of the Union Addresses, we can see the intrinsic racism built into this country.
George Washington said in his first State if the Union address in 1790:
There was reason to hope, the pacifick measures adopted with regard to certain hostile tribes of Indians, would have relieved the inhabitants of our southern and western frontiers from their depredations. But you will perceive… that we ought to be prepared to afford protection to those parts of the Union; and, if necessary, to punish aggressors.
To take land from someone and then refer to them as the “aggressors” is despicable and the height of hubris.
During the 1830s the US Government began seizing land from people and forcing them to move thousands of miles away. Force was involved: brutal murders, including mass murders, occurred and since there wasn’t a fast way to move thousands of people at the time, they were marched on foot. These people were the Native Americans and it was not one but many tribes that suffered this fate.
Not only were their lands taken, but their traditions and languages were erased as much as possible. In the 1870s, about thirty years before the setting of this book, the US Government forced Native American into schools where their culture could be neutralized – cultural genocide. This continued until the 1970s. A similar tragedy occurred in Canada directed toward the indigenous people, whom they refer to as First Nations instead of Native American. To remember the horrors of this time, Canada has Orange Shirt Day on September 30th.
What does all of this have to do with Seraphina and the Twisted Staff? A new character for this book is a catamount boy named Waysa. He is the lone survivor of his family of two tragedies: the Trail of Tears, and a later attack by the villain of the book. Western North Carolina was predominantly the domain of the Cherokee.
The Western Band of the Cherokee Indian is the part of the tribe that was moved forcibly to Oklahoma. The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian is the remainder that managed to stay behind.
One could not write an historical novel, YA or otherwise, and do justice without mentioning the Trail of Tears and the impact it had on this area and this country. I respect that Beatty chose to mention this in his novel and hope that it sparks a dialogue in young readers that leads to honoring the people’s whose lands we now occupy.
To learn more about the Trail of Tears, click here.
Whose land are you on? This site designed by a First Nations man will let you put in a location in Canada or the United States and explore that question.
If you’re ever in Western North Carolina, the outdoor drama “Unto These Hills” about the plight of the Cherokee people is very moving. The music is incredible and I wish, like Allegiance, they would make this story available in more formats for wider viewership. It’s my belief that both should’ve required viewing for American high school students.
2 – Distinct Verbal Patterns
I mentioned reading aloud to my daughter this book. I’ve heard over and over that reading a book aloud reveals its flaws. This book is very well edited and has very few flaws.
The verbal patterns of the characters makes it a lot of fun to read aloud.
Beatty does justice to the Appalachian people of this area by respectfully including their legends and colloquialisms.
The Appalachian verbal patterns are not the only ones included. The other characters speak in a way that reflects their heritage well.
3 – Realistic Imagery
Having visited the Biltmore Estate, I can say that the scenes depicted in this story are clear. There is a magic to these descriptions that I am sure young and old readers alike will enjoy.
This second book ends at Christmas time, and I have been told that The Biltmore Estate is especially resplendent then. I haven’t had the opportunity to see it myself all decked out for the holidays, but I would love to get that opportunity.
4 – A Simple yet Powerful Message
Throughout this book Seraphina struggles between between dichotomies: human versus catamount; Biltmore versus Forest; and her mother’s message that she does not belong and her father’s legacy to the forest. Her father, who died before she knew him, had a motto: Stay Bold. These words were breathed into the forest as they fought against the darkness. Her father died standing up for the forest and his fellow creatures.
Seraphina finds herself in this book. We can probably identify with being torn between two ideas, and we can probably identify with the uncertainty that comes with being a pre-teen. The message Stay Bold is one that I hope more of us will hold close to our hearts.
There were many more things to love about this series. You might want to read it and make your own list.
On a side note, Robert Beatty is a very kind man. I have not personally met him, but my husband has. When Seraphina and the Twisted Staff was released, my husband snuck away to a book signing and got me a copy. At the time I was really struggling with writer’s block. My husband asked Beatty if he had any advice. Beatty suggested following your main character for a day. That was good advice and really helped me.
Seraphina and the Twisted Staff is the second book of a bestselling series. Both are great, but you could pick this one up by itself.
If you’re interested, here’s a floor plan of Biltmore Estate (though I can’t attest its accuracy).
Is there a setting for a book that you have visited or would like to visit?