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Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris: R. L. LaFevers

Book: Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris (Theodosia's website)
Author: R. L. LaFevers (blog)
Illustrator: Yoko Tanaka
Pages: 400
Age Range: 9-12

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris is the sequel to Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, which I reviewed last year. Like it's predecessor, Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris features a brave, clever eleven-year-old heroine, an intriguing, atmospheric setting, interesting historical and archeological tidbits, and a plot that will keep kids turning the pages. Despite the fact that the title character is a girl, I think that this book will absolutely appeal to middle grade boys, too. (Think reanimated mummies walking the night streets of early 20th Century London, should you have any doubts.)

The story begins with Theodosia attending a reception with her parents, one in which a mummy is to be unwrapped. Theodosia's horror over this desecration pales in comparison to the horror she feels when she realizes that the mummified man is actually someone she knows. Someone from her prior run-in with a shadowy organization called the Serpents of Chaos. Theodosia's life is further complicated by her accidental discovery of a dangerous artifact, one highly desired by the enemy organization. Her efforts to understand and protect the artifact are grossly hindered by her grandmother's attempts to put her under the care of a governess. She also has to help her friend, Will, a reformed pick-pocket, face a danger from his past.

I love Theodosia. She is clearly a product of her unusual upbringing by a museum curator and an ahead-of-her-times woman archaeologist. Theodosia displays an advanced vocabulary and tremendous knowledge regarding ancient Egypt. She occasionally displays Victorian sensibilities (she is tremendously embarrassed when she must use a trip to the powder room as an excuse to get away from a governess), but she is also fiercely independent. In the tradition of many children's books, Theodosia's parents are benignly neglectful, leaving her with plenty of room to save the day herself.

I especially enjoy Theodosia's wryly humorous, determined voice. Here are a couple of examples:

"My cheeks grew hot as I realized I was being scolded in front of a complete stranger.

Especially this prig. He'd scrubbed his face so hard that it shone, and his dark hair was pasted flat on his head. It was a shame he hadn't thought to use the same paste on his ears, as they stuck out rather dreadfully. His mouth was pressed into a thin line. It was probably why he had a small fuzzy caterpillar of a mustache -- so people would be sure to realize he had a mouth. I have observed that people with small, tight mouths are rarely friendly or good tempered." (Page 52)

""I felt Grandmother's steely gaze boring holes clear through my forehead. "Yes, well, I do very much appreciate this chance to see your boat," I said politely." (Page 134)

"I suppose visiting a battleship would be a lovely way to spend an afternoon, if one wasn't distracted by the treat of one's father being hauled off to prison. Or by wondering who on earth the Grim Nipper was. Or by worrying about whether or not one slippery street urchin had managed to get a most urgent message to the head of a secret organization.

Or if one wasn't accompanied by one's grandmother." (Page 141)

I also enjoy Theodosia's prickly relationship with her overbearing Grandmother. It takes talent and ingenuity to convey, using a first-person perspective, the fact that Theodosia's Grandmother is much more proud of her, and concerned for her, than Theodosia realizes. Even though the grandmother is a disagreeable dragon, I felt a sneaking admiration for her by the end of this book.

Theodosia's relationship with her street urchin friend, Will, is also entertaining. The class difference between them is unavoidable (and it would be wholly unrealistic not to convey it), but I think that the author handles it with a light touch. Theodosia bosses Will around, but he is not afraid to push back. Though, being strong-willed, she usually gets her way. For example, "Of course, being a boy, he immediately got all huffy, but I ignored it and stayed firm until he finally relented." (Page 303)

One of my favorite scenes is one in which the two children are bickering. LaFevers manages to sneak in the proper pronunciation of Osiris ("Oh-sigh-ris", according to Theodosia), by having Theodosia exasperatedly correct Will. This is completely plausible.

Robin LaFevers' ability to interweave historical and mythological detail into the fabric of the story reminds me a bit of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books. Both authors keep the story paramount, and the action moving, but find tons of kid-friendly details to convey. For example, in one scene, Theodosia describes, in graphic detail, the process of Egyptian embalming. But she does this not to get the information across to the reader, but to scare off a nervous potential governess. The result is quite entertaining, and doesn't feel at all educational.

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris gets my highest recommendation for middle grade and middle school readers. Try it on fans of the Percy Jackson books, kids who are fascinated by Egypt, and anyone who enjoys mysteries with a strong sense of place. But have them read Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos first - some of the details in this one will make more sense. I know for certain that I would have loved this book as a 10-year-old. I hope that Theodosia has many more adventures.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: November 10, 2008 (but available early)
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher (I also got an ARC from Amazon, but I read the finished copy)
Author Interviews: Finding Wonderland

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.