Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers: B-

From the back cover:
“Frankly, I’m not fond of surprises, as ones around here tend to be rather wicked.”

For poor Theodosia, however, surprises abound. She spends most of her time at the Museum of Legends and Antiquities in London. There, all the artifacts that her parents dig up around the world are put on display and studied. But what her parents can’t see—and what Theodosia can—is the curses and black magic still attached to the ancient pieces. And it’s up to Theo to keep it all under control. Quite a task for an eleven-year-old girl!

Then Theo’s mother brings home the Heart of Egypt—a legendary amulet belonging to an ancient tomb. Theodosia’s skills will certainly be put to the test, for the curse attached to it is so vile and so black, it threatens to bring down the entire British Empire! Theodosia will have to call upon everything she’s ever learned in order to prevent the rising chaos from destroying her country—and herself!

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos is like a sandwich. You might assume I mean that it starts and ends strong but has a disappointing middle, but I actually mean just the opposite.

1906, London. Theodosia Throckmorton, age eleven, is cleverer than most. Her parents work at the Museum of Legends and Antiquities, specializing in Egyptian artifacts. Theodosia claims many of these items are cursed, though no one else ever notices this fact, and describes the spell preparations she uses to nullify the curses before they do any damage. For a while, I regarded her as an unreliable narrator because I couldn’t tell whether we were supposed to believe that this was all true or if it was all an elaborate game of make-believe devised by an intelligent, lonely girl; many of her spells involve rather mundane ingredients like bits of string, after all.

When confirmation of the existence of curses as well as Theodosia’s talent for detecting them comes from adults in The Brotherhood of the Chosen Keepers, I began to enjoy the story much more. She gets involved with the Brotherhood after tracking men whom she suspects of having stolen the valuable artifact the Heart of Egypt from her parents’ museum. It turns out that this artifact brings a curse upon the nation responsible for removing it from its tomb and that Germans facilitated its removal by Theodosia’s mother in order to bring chaos upon Britain. To forestall plagues, famine, and the like it must be returned to its original resting place. The whole middle section, in which Theodosia enlists the aid of her little brother and a pickpocket named Sticky Will to get back the Heart of Egypt is pretty entertaining, if improbable.

Alas, things take a turn for the ridiculous when the leader of The Brotherhood asks the eleven-year-old Theodosia to convince her parents to take her to Egypt so that she can put the Heart of Egypt back where it belongs. And she can’t tell them what’s up or have any backup, since all the other Brotherhood agents are injured or elsewhere. Nevermind that a group of murderous Germans wants it back or anything. The final few chapters are pretty tiresome, full of scenes of evading the bad guys and Theodosia reminding readers over and over of her assigned task. Everything wraps up exactly as one would expect, of course.

Another thing that bothered me a lot at first was the writing. A superfluous mention of “frocks and pinafores” gave off the distinctive aroma of “someone trying really hard to sound British,” so I checked and, yes, LaFevers is an American. After a while it ceased to bother me as much, but every time Theodosia said “smashing” I did cringe a bit inside.

I went from being dubious, to being pleased, to being rather bored throughout the course of this story. There are currently two more books in the series, with a fourth due out next spring, and at first I thought I wouldn’t bother with them, then I thought I would, and now I am not sure. There’s definitely a lot of potential here, but the execution is uneven. Perhaps what is needed is for Theodosia to have a team to work with; those parts were much more interesting than when she was alone. Now that she’s become an honorary member of the Brotherhood and grown closer to her brother, such an outcome seems possible. I suppose this means I’ve convinced myself to read at least one more and see how it goes.

More reviews of Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos can be found at Triple Take.

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