Theodosia Throckmorton has her hands full at the Museum of Legends and Antiquities in London. Her father may be head curator, but it is Theo—and only Theo—who is able to see all the black magic and ancient curses that still cling to the artifacts in the museum. Sneaking behind her father’s back, Theo uses old, nearly forgotten Egyptian magic to remove the curses and protect her father and the rest of the museum employees from the ancient, sinister forces that lurk in the museum’s dark hallways.
(see more information on Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s website.)
I wanted to love you. You have such a fun cover. And Egyptian magic! Yes please! Why must you be such an insufferable brat?
To be fair to R.L LaFevers, this book is intended for grades 2-5… and I am about 17 years above the targeted audience. The things that bother me in this book are likely to delight someone the age of my best friend’s daughter. Alright. Fair.
I believe a well-written children’s book should be accessible (if a bit juvenile) to any age. I still adore Harry Potter. Lemony Snicket still makes me chuckle. I can read Roald Dahl with glee. All three of these are children’s authors whose books are transcendent. Theo is… definitely for grades 2-5.
So, with that out of the way, lets talk about the three things that bother me the most.
Theodosia knows everything. Everything. She hasn’t a fault or a spot of bad luck. She can undo any Egyptian curse! She is far smarter than her parents or older brother or museum curators, and she must take care of all of them. She can successfully sneak out of any unpleasant situation without consequences and often with getting her way. She is told she’s extraordinary, but that’s no real surprise to her, because she already knew so. Infuriating.
2. The Adults.
Every adult in this book is a hopeless ninny who can’t tell their right foot from their left. Every single one is effortlessly outwitted by an eleven-year-old girl. If this happened once or twice, it may be amusing. But every adult? Archaeologists, curators, ship’s captains, distinguished society ladies, foreign dignitaries, and murderers? Come now.
This is like name dropping, except not. Serpents of Chaos takes place in the Victorian era, which means we need to take interludes to discuss jam sandwiches, proper tea etiquette, and Dickensian street urchins. Also governesses (irrelevant to story), boarding schools (irrelevant to story), men’s embarrassment at seeing a petticoat (irrelevant to story) and piano scales (irrelevant to story). Sensing a theme? LaFevers spent so much time dropping hints to remind you that this was supposed to take place during the Victorian era that it’s distracting.
Those are my three big things.
Also of minor frustration:
- Theodosia curses her cat and spends the next several days half-heartedly trying to remove the curse then getting distracted by something else.
- Her older brother behaves like an awe-struck five-year-old.
- Why in the world would a pickpocket spend hours (let alone days and putting his life at risk) tailing a villianous figure for no benefit to himself as a thank you to a girl who caught him stealing but didn’t tattle?
- A great deal of emphasis is placed on different artifacts, which are ultimately dropped as irrelevant halfway through the story.
- I wasn’t particularly keen on the apparently gutless Nabir, who babysits Theo but speaks broken English and doesn’t notice a bunch of people walk past him and into the archaeological site after her. It was a particular poor portrayal, especially because she makes a big deal about him praying to Allah. All the adults are mindless ninnies, but this just seemed on the edge of poor taste. Oh. And he lets her wander around the black market after making a big deal about how dangerous it is, just because she states she’s not worried. Seriously?
- The title of the book, the “Serpents of Chaos”? Snakes aren’t mentioned until the last couple chapters, but the real reason for the title of the book isn’t explained until the last couple pages, and it’s very anti-climatic.
- There’s a lot of emphasis on eating meals – making dinner for Father, getting meat pasties, burnt toast for breakfast – that felt awkward.
All in all?
I can see how a kid would like it. It’s a young, female Victorian-age mix of The Mummy and Indiana Jones. Simplified. A lot. But it’s not great literature.
Got a kid interested in Victorian England or Ancient Egypt? Get this from the library. Otherwise… perhaps I can recommend some Lloyd Alexander….