Monday, March 2, 2009

Ambulatory mummies and living statues

Theodosia Throckmorton, the prickly, precocious heroine of Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, returns in her second adventure. Set in London in the early 1900s, the series combines that historical backdrop with the culture and artifacts of ancient Egypt. Theodosia spends much of her time at her parents' Museum of Legends and Antiquities, and she is extremely knowledgeable about not only ancient Egyptian history and religion, but also the magical properties surrounding the artifacts.

Her ability to perceive curses on ancient objects helped save the British Empire in the first book. It also brought her to the attention not only of the nefarious group the Serpents of Chaos, who seek to overthrow Britain's position of power and wreak chaos on the world, but also of the Brotherhood of Chosen Keepers, a secret group of British agents working against the Serpents. Her parents, of course, have no idea of the secret, dangerous work she has undertaken, and neither does her formidable, overbearing grandmother, who insists on inflicting upon Theodosia a series of horrific governesses in order to "bring her to heel."

The story begins as Theodosia accompanies her parents to a reception at Lord Chudleigh's mansion, an occasion that is to be her "big introduction to professional life." Theodosia is very excited, but a bit nervous: after all, she's going to be expected to speak to the gathering of lords and ladies and eminent Egyptologists. It is a bit off-putting when, at the reception, she is either ignored by the other guests or regarded with puzzlement and disdain:
"I found an elderly man examining me through his monocle as if I were a bug at the end of a pin. A very round woman dressed in mustard-colored ruffles lifted her lorgnette to the bridge of her nose, then tut-tutted. Honestly! You'd think they'd never seen an eleven-year-old girl before."
Theodosia is horrified to learn that Lord Chudleigh plans to perform a mummy unwrapping during the reception. Not that she is squeamish - far from it: "It just seemed wrong to be unwrapping the poor mummy in front of all these gawking visitors who didn't give a fig about ancient Egypt or the scholarly pursuit of Egyptian burial practices." Unfortunately for pompous Lord Chudleigh, his precious mummy turns out to be a fake. Unfortunately for Theodosia, she blurts out that unwelcome piece of information to the entire assembly of guests. Grandmother Throckmorton, in particular, is furious with her. Theodosia is baffled by everyone's attitude:
It wasn't as if I had done anything to the poor fellow. I just happened to notice the mummy wasn't an ancient Egyptian! And didn't anyone realize this meant someone had been murdered? And that the murdered body was propped up against the watered silk wallpaper right under our noses?

If you ask me, some people have no perspective.
Theodosia is quickly caught up in the mystery surrounding the fake mummy (who turns out to be not just fake, but the body of someone she actually knew personally). A bizarre but highly entertaining chain of events ensues, including a statue of Anubis that comes to life, a host of mummies from all over London that inexplicably shows up at her parents' museum, Theodosia being abducted by yet another secret society, a cursed rope that causes unfortunate dermatological issues - and to complicate matters, Theodosia's freedom becomes curtailed by the most horrific governess of all.

Theodosia is a thoroughly admirable heroine - strong, stubborn, intelligent, and able to think fast on her feet. Her people skills might need a little work - she is a precocious only child and tends to be a bit bossy (otherwise how on earth could she get things done?). The pacing is excellent, the characters well-developed and full of surprises, and Theodosia's marvelous voice carries the narrative beautifully, imbuing it with humor and excitement. LaFevers is skillful at using Theodosia's first-person narrative to communicate information to the reader that Theodosia herself doesn't quite understand - such as her grandmother's true feelings about her - and hers for her grandmother. Tanaka's illustrations are an excellent accompaniment to the text and reflect the mysterious, often gloomy atmosphere perfectly. I highly recommend this series, and am very much looking forward to Theodosia's future adventures.

Books in the Theodosia series
:
1. Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
2. Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris


Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris
by R.L. LaFevers; illustrated by Yoko Tanaka (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Bib-Laura-Graphy: "The second book in the Theodosia Throckmorton series delivers with nonstop action, good history, sly humor, and a delightfully precocious protagonist. A few characters from the first book are not who they seem - and is Theodosia’s grandmother actually showing signs of - gasp - humanity?"
Jen Robinson's Book Page: "Like its predecessor, Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris features a brave, clever eleven-year-old heroine, an intriguing, atmospheric setting, interesting historical and archeological tidbits, and a plot that will keep kids turning the pages."
The Movieholic and Bibliophile's Blog: "Have you ever read a book intended for young adults and wished that you had read it when you yourself were younger? That was the way I felt when I had finished this story even though I know I couldn’t have enjoyed it any more than I already did!"

7 comments:

  1. I just couldn't get into the first one. I had too many issues with it. I am torn about whether or not I want to read the rest of this series. Hmm.

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  2. Aren't these books just too much fun? I keep imposing them on poor unsuspecting kids.

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  3. Cat - Huh. I'd be curious to know what issues you had. Did you post a review? I think this one is even better than the last - tighter and more focused, and the characters are further developed. But there are so many wonderful books out there - I couldn't see wasting time on a series that didn't really tickle my fancy (although this one sure does!).

    Biblaurography - Hi! I enjoyed your review and meant to leave a comment but got distracted. I do love this series, and yes, it is great fun to inflict upon others. At least now when kids come back to my library and want more, I'll be able to give them #2 in the series!

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  4. Great - thanks! I'm off to check it out...

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  5. I really love this series :) I do wish I didn't have to wait for so long for the next one.

    Thanks for the link!

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  6. Ladytink - My pleasure. :-) I agree - the wait for the next one will be harsh!

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