R.L. LaFevers' Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
Children's book review by Sarah Denslow
If the title Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos makes you think “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for upper-elementary kids”, you’re not too far off the mark. Set in turn of the century England, Theodosia is the daughter of two archaeologists and practically lives at the museum where her parents work.
Theo is eleven and should be in school, but her parents, notoriously absent-minded when it comes to anything outside of Egyptology, simply forgot to send her back after break one year. Theo is just fine with that: she didn’t really care for school, and she has her hands full at the museum removing curses.
In a sense, Theo is a pint-sized super-hero: she has the special power to detect curses on Egyptian ancient artifacts. (The curses make her feel like an icy-footed beetle is crawling down her back.) She uses her power for the greater good and goes to some lengths to remove them via mixing herbs and reciting incantations. Like all superheroes, Theo must keep her powers hidden, only in this case it’s because no one else will believe in the curses. By day she’s Theodosia, mild mannered eleven-year-old, but by night she’s Theodosia, curse tracker and hex remover extraordinaire.
Things are pretty much business as usual for Theo (curse removal, glyph studies, reminding her father to eat, sleeping in a sarcophagus when she has to spend the night at the museum), until her mother returns from Egypt with an extra-special, not to mention extra-cursed, ancient amulet: the Heart of Egypt.
Theo grits her teeth, ready for a long haul of curse removal, but then – the amulet disappears! Well, Theo may not be one for surprises or potentially dangerous adventures, but she suspects the Heart of Egypt has been stolen and she’s not going to lose it without a fight.
She and younger brother Henry, accompanied by the crooked but kindly street urchin Sticky Will, set out to track down the stone. The trail leads Theo to meet Lord Wigmere, the head of the secret society The Brotherhood of the Chosen Keepers. He’s the first adult to take Theo’s curse tracking skills seriously, because – guess what – his society does curse removal too.
Of course none of them have Theo’s special power to actually feel the curses. Admiring Theo’s abilities, Wigmere explains to her that the Heart of Egypt must be returned to the very tomb in which it was found. Otherwise, should it fall into the wrong hands, it could bring about the destruction of the entire British Empire.
It’s not an easy task, but Theo will have to be the one to do it. She has to use all her quick thinking and intellect, not to mention the occasional imperious stare she picked up from her very proper grandmother.
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos is a great book for 8-12 year olds who like historical fiction, a bit of magic, or just a good adventure. The book takes us through the winding streets of London to the sandy Egyptian desert. Curses and villains are lurk around almost every corner, and the novel is fast-paced due to Theo's various mini-adventures.
Theo will quickly win readers over: she’s smart, but admits her shortcomings, such as not being brave. Though she is in unusual circumstances, Theo’s still a pretty typical eleven year old: she has a crush on one of the men who works at the museum, she can’t decide if her brother is helpful or a complete nuisance, and her grandmother wants her to practice much more lady-like behavior than Theo is quite ready to do. Theo also worries that her parents care more about archeology than they do about her, but this is resolved at the end of the novel, much to Theo’s delight.
Henry and Sticky Will are also delightful characters. However, as Theo’s character is really what makes Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, if you don’t take a liking to her after a chapter or two it’s probably best to find another novel. It’s also probably more of a book for girls than boys; although there are quite a few male characters, they all play second fiddle to Theo.
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos has a sequel, Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris, which came out recently. I have not read it yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing what other adventures come Theo's way.
Read more of Sarah's reviews.
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