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Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos: R. L. LaFevers

Who could resist Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, by R. L. LaFevers? The book is dedicated to "clever girls everywhere who get tired of feeling like no one's listening". Set in the early 1900's, it's the story of young Theodosia Throckmorton, who more or less lives in London's Museum of Legends and Antiquities. Her mother is an archaeologist, frequently away excavating tombs in Egypt. Her father is museum-obsessed, and frequently works through the night. Theodosia, who has managed through her parents' inattention to dodge both boarding school and governesses, has her own little room at the museum, where she sleeps in a sarcophagus. This alone would be interesting, but it gets better.

Theodosia, who is "cleverer than most", has a rare natural gift for sensing ancient curses, and removing them. When her mother brings home a very important, and seriously cursed artifact, the Heart of Egypt, Theodosia finds herself at the heart of a conspiracy. She has to recover the artifact, after it's stolen by evil-doers, and go to great lengths to un-do the damage wrought by the Heart of Egypt. She wrestles with a secret brotherhood, German troublemakers, an appealing young pickpocket, and her pesky younger brother, Henry. Not to mention stowing away on a ship, facing scorpions, and removing a curse from her black cat. Through it all, Theodosia remains strong and smart, considerably more on top of things than her relatively hapless parents and snooty grandmother. She's definitely a cool girl of children's literature.

Theodosia has an appealingly snarky voice (the story is told in the first person). She reminds me a bit of Betsy Bird, actually, in her tone. Here are a couple of examples:

"I weighed my options: being followed through the streets of London by a menacing stranger or catching a lift with Grandmother Throckmorton. It shouldn't have been such a difficult choice, but then, you don't know my grandmother." (page60)

"We bade Henry goodbye at Charing Cross Station and waited on the platform until his train pulled away. I realized I was going to miss the little beast. Either that or I had a bit of coal dust stuck in my eye." (page 248)

Another thing I like about this book is that LaFevers isn't afraid to use advanced vocabulary. Theodosia is supposed to be extra-clever, after all. For example:

"Henry sniggered and I gave him my best quelling look." (page 195)

Sniggered and quelling in the same sentence. Who wouldn't love that? The writing style is overall quite straightforward, but sentences like this one lift it above the common.

The book also conveys a sense of reverence for ancient artifacts and places. For example:

"I cannot begin to tell you the thrill of finally seeing the necropolis up close, not to mention the tombs of the pharaohs. I have heard about them all my life, dealt daily with their historic finds, and spent hours trying to cipher out their meaning. And now, to finally experience one in its entirety, as it was originally built and conceived, not in crumbled bits and pieces ... it was as if I stood at the pearly gates of heaven itself." (page 304)

Kids who enjoy hearing about mummies, ancient tombs, pyramids, and Egyptian curses will find this book utterly compelling. Fans of historical novels, especially British historical novels, will appreciate the attention to period detail. And conspiracy buffs will enjoy figuring out, along with Theodosia, who to trust, and who not to trust. In short, this book is a welcome addition to the canon of middle grade mystery and suspense novels. I look forward to the future adventures that are sure to follow.

Book: Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
Author: R. L. LaFevers (see also her blog)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (see also Theodosia Throckmorton's website and blog)
Original Publication Date: April 2007 (but it's available from Amazon now)
Pages: 368
Age Range: 9-12
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: bookshelves of doom, lindajsingleton

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