Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos

theo1.jpg by R.L. LaFevers. When this little gem came across my desk, it looked like the dark offspring of Lemony Snicket and Edward Gorey. I admit, I was intrigued. When I read the book jacket, I was hooked. An eleven year old girl with the run of London’s Museum of Legends and Antiquities who routinely finds and destroys curses attached to ancient objects? Throw in an adventuresome mother, an annoying but clever younger brother and a quick-footed pickpocket, mix in the Cursed Object of all Cursed Objects, add a pinch of world domination and stir with a secret society and you have a delicious, mysterious tale perfect for those young readers looking for something beyond Harry Potter.

Theodosia Elizabeth Throckmorton spends her days, and often her nights, roaming the halls of the Museum where her father curates and her mother provides the artifacts from trips to Eqypt. Theo has an unusual gift — she can see the curses attached to many of the ancient objects her mother excavates for the museum. Using ancient texts and her own ingenuity, Theo routinely cleanses the objects so they can be safely viewed and handled by the museum staff. When Theo’s mother returns from a particularly long stay in Egypt, Theo is thrilled, until she sees the object most prized by her mother — the Heart of Egypt — which is drenched with evil. When the object is stolen from the museum, Theo and younger brother Henry embark on a mission to find it and return it to their mother. Along the way, however, they discover the Heart of Egypt is far more dangerous than they ever imagined, and Theo finds herself stowed away on a boat to Egypt where she must return the Heart to the tomb from which it came.

Action abounds in this wonderfully intelligent story. Theo is a pip of a character – a combination of Violet Baudelaire, Harriet the Spy and a young Amelia Peabody – who proves the point that children are far more capable and clever than adults think. The details involving Egyptian magic, and life inside the museum make the story come alive.  Theo is a well-drawn character, and drives most of the action; I wish, though, that her parents were more fleshed out, especially her mother. I imagine we’ll see more of Theo in future stories, so LaFevers has time to complete the characterizations. Highly recommended for grades 5-7.