Book Review: “Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos” by R.L. LaFevers

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Theodosia Throckmorton… Just say that name out loud a few times! Feel the way it rolls off your tongue. While you do so, try to picture a truant London schoolgirl in the wee years of the 20th century, an era when horse-drawn carriages still outnumbered motorcars, when trains ran on steam, and when there were already faint rumblings of a power struggle between the British Empire and the Kaiser’s Germany — though no one, in his worst nightmare, yet dreamed of World War I. No one, that is, except the bad guys in this book and the secret society devoted to stopping them.

Caught in the middle is Theodosia Throckmorton, the precocious daughter of a couple of Egyptologists. While Mum and Dad are busy filling up their second-rate museum with treasures plundered from the Pharaoh’s tombs, Theo finds her secret talent in high demand. And what is her talent? Why, spotting curses, of course! And, with the aid of a lot of research, neutralizing them before they cause untold mayhem!

Being able to see curses doesn’t make Theo particularly happy with all the nights she has to sleep at the museum because her father is too busy and forgetful to take her home. She has adapted, however, to sleeping in a sarcophagus (where unquiet spirits can’t get to her) and relying on a collection of homemade amulets to ward off evil. But now her mother has really done it! On her latest return from Egypt, Mum has brought back the “heart of Egypt” from the recently-unearthed tomb of Thutmose III. And with it, she has brought a curse onto English soil, a curse so full of pestilence, famine, and every other kind of disaster that it could be just what the Germans need to come out on top.

Theo makes a lot of daring discoveries with the aid of her not-quite-useless younger brother Henry and a cockney pickpocket named Sticky Will. But in the most dangerous leg of her journey–in which Alexandria, Cairo, and Thutmose’s tomb are all ports of call–she’ll be on her own. Against a conspiracy of vicious criminals, a traitor, and an ancient Pharaoh’s diabolical genius, can one girl with an eye for hieroglyphs and a feel for magic be enough?

Concerned parents should know, as they consider whether this book is appropriate for their kids, that this book contains a strong dose of “occult content.” It’s not just that various forms of ancient Egyptian magic and spirituality are depicted as real. Theodosia herself works in this magic, following fairly plausible recipes and reasoning, at times, about whether the Egyptian gods really exist. I am not suggesting that this book should be banned, or even that Christian children should not read it. I simply want concerned parents to be aware of this issue, to take a good look at this book, and to be prepared to discuss it whether your children read it or not. Many readers will take pure entertainment from this book. For others, it may prove an exercise in critical thinking and family discussion. And for some, it may in fact be spiritually offensive. A word to the wise.

In spite of these caveats, I am personally very interested in reading further among the books of Robin Lorraine LaFevers, an L.A.-area author whose other books include The Falconmaster, Werewolf Rising, the Lowthar’s Blade trilogy, and the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series, whose titles now include The Flight of the Phoenix, The Basilisk’s Lair and The Wyverns’ Treasure. Plus, there are at least two sequels to this book, including (to-date) Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris and Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus. Both of these ongoing series should interest Hogwarts boosters as extra-credit readings in “Care of Magical Creatures” and “Defense Against the Dark Arts,” respectively. As for myself, I look intend to check them out in hope of enjoying more of the humor, high adventure, historical color, and bone-chilling creepiness that make this book worth recommending.