Theodosia Throckmorton spends most of her days at London’s Museum of Legends and Antiquities, where her father is the head curator. In her time there, she’s discovered she has a talent which allows her to see the curses placed on the artifacts that arrive at the museum. Safely dispelling these threats consumes much of her time. When her mother returns from Egypt with an exceedingly curse laden shipment of newly discovered Egyptian items she finds out there are quite a few people with interest in these ancient magics and not all of them are nice.
Though this series may have been mentioned to me before, I truly discovered it for the first time while standing in line at the bookstore vendor at the NH Library Association conference in May. There it was, lying on the table, looking very much like an adventure book with a female lead. Further perusal of the table revealed it wasn’t just a book, but a series, and unfortunately book 1 was not there for sale. Impulse buy thwarted!
The first book, Serpents of Chaos, was shortly acquired. The book introduces Theodosia Throckmorton, an intelligent girl with an unusual magical gift: not only can she sense and see curses that have been placed on people and objects, but she’s quite adept at figuring out how to remove them, as well. This is fortunate, because her father is the head curator at the Museum of Legends and Antiquities and her mother is an archaeologist. As a result, she finds herself constantly surrounded by objects infested with ancient Egyptian magic. Mostly hostile. And her parents haven’t the slightest idea.
During the course of the book, Theodosia finds that she isn’t the only person aware of the magical properties of these objects. We’re introduced to two warring factions — the evil Serpents of Chaos, and the seemingly good Brotherhood of the Chosen Keepers. I say seemingly because I just feel like in the end they’ll turn out to be evil too, or at least have an agenda that doesn’t quite mesh with hers.
In any case, the book itself was fine. The plot ended up a bit thin, mainly because of the need to introduce all of the characters — quite a bit of time was spent going back and forth between locations and providing information about what one expects will be the main settings of the series. Understandable, though perhaps not as seamlessly done as it could have been. And the settings themselves are marvelous; I love London, and the author did evoke a good feel for it as Theodosia walks (or is otherwise transported) from place to place.
Unfortunately, I didn’t come away with nearly as much engagement with the characters. The villains are as yet cardboard, and I still harbor too many suspicions of the Good Guy adults to feel safe to have any attachment to them. Theodosia’s two child companions, Sticky Will (Street Urchin and Thief with a Heart of Gold) and her brother Henry (Pesty Brother and Schoolboy) are not developed enough to transcend their stereotypical backgrounds. Mr. and Mrs. Throckmorton do not fare much better, being very uneven — they seem almost aggressively uninterested in anything Theo has to say to the point where it strains credulity; one would expect that most academics would at least be mildly interested in a child of their own who seemed so interested in their work. Theo’s grandmother showed some hints of promise, but she was not on camera enough to be certain. So that leaves Theo herself as the only person to receive enough depth to emerge from this book as a round character, one with motivations and interests which the reader has explored in detail. And perhaps that is enough, for a first book, but I rather wish it had been at least two.
On the other hand, the book was well-paced, and in spite of the constant scene shifts, the book manages to hang together as a whole, rather than feeling like several separate adventures shoved together. And it’s good enough for me to check out the second book, which should provide me with enough data to decide if I’m ultimately going to like the whole series or not.
Theodosia is interesting, smart and determined. It’s a shame that she couldn’t have a female child companion (by the end of the book it’s looking like her primary assistants will be two male children), or that the other female characters weren’t a bit more memorable or well developed, but one can’t have everything. This book mainly serves to set up what one assumes will be the central conflict of the series going forward and to introduce characters, but is not bad for all that. The idea is a good one and the pre-WWI British setting is a nice departure. This series has a good amount of potential to which it will hopefully live up.