Halt’s Peril, by John Flanagan, was published in 2010 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Kings of Clonmel.
Rangers walk the line between life and death every day, but never before has that line appeared so thin or death felt so certain. Hot on the trail of the Outsiders—a cult that’s been making its way from kingdom to kingdom, connoting the innocent out of their few valuables—Will and Halt are ambushed by the cult’s deadly assassins. Pierced by a poisoned arrow, Will’s mentor is near death and in dire need of the one antidote that can save his life. Time is not on Will’s side as he journeys day and night through the harsh terrain to Grimsdell Wood in search of the one person with the power to cure Halt: Malkallam the Sorcerer.
The Kings of Clonmel may have been, in my opinion, the best of the “Part 1’s” of Ranger’s Apprentice, but Halt’s Peril may be the worst “Part 2.” That’s not to say the book isn’t good—it’s Ranger’s Apprentice; of course it’s good. But it lacks the intensity of some of the earlier books and the relatively slow pace throughout the middle of the book—despite the fast paced events dealing with Halt being poisoned—drags the plot on a little. It’s weird to say that a book is slow-paced when it’s at its most intense, every-second-counts moment, but something was certainly off about the pacing of this book. Or maybe the problem is that I found the resolution with Tennyson to be unsatisfying and anti-climactic after the exciting parts that came before it.
Speaking of exciting parts, I haven’t read this book in ten or so years and I vividly remembered one scene dealing with Will and the Genovesan right at the tail end of the poisoning plot. As in, I remembered what happened and what the characters said almost exactly—it was such a pivotal, stand-out moment in the book that it stood out to me and remained in my memory even after ten (or so) years. That part of the book shows just how far Will has come—as well as how far he will go to protect the ones he loves. And that ice-cold statement at the end of that particular chapter. Dang. No wonder it stuck in my brain.
I wouldn’t say Ranger’s Apprentice is declining in quality, but Halt’s Peril was a bit of a misstep in several respects. While it featured a gripping, tense plot midway through the book, the lead-up to that part, and the resolution that followed it, weren’t as good, resulting in me having an oddly dissatisfied feeling when I finished. After all that tension, the ending could not stand up to the rest and felt anticlimactic and overly prolonged. I suppose it was only natural that Ranger’s Apprentice would falter a little bit, and I’m glad it happened nine books in as opposed to sooner, but it’s still a little disappointing.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Horace swung the cloak around him delightedly. Even though it was made for Halt’s smaller frame, the Ranger cloaks were of such a capacious design that it fitted him reasonably well. It would be far too short, of course, but on horseback that didn’t matter too much.
“I’ve always wanted one of these,” Horace said, grinning at the cloak. He pulled the deep cowl up over his head, hiding his face in its shadows, and gathered the gray-brown folds around him.
Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood, was published in 2017 by Katherine Tegen.
At Miss Ellicott’s School for Magical Maidens, girls train to become sorceresses by learning about Spells, Potions, Wards, Summonings…and, most important, Deportment. The city’s people need sorceresses to protect them, but the magical maidens are taught to behave themselves so they don’t frighten anyone. Chantel would much rather focus on her magic than on curtseying—and sometimes she just can’t help but give people a Look. Her attitude often gets her in trouble, especially with the headmistress, the terrifying Miss Ellicott. Then Miss Ellicott mysteriously vanishes, along with all the other sorceresses in the city. Without any magic protecting the city, the fearsome Marauders threaten the lives of everyone that Chantel cares about…and even though Chantel and her friends were once banned from practicing battle spells, it’s now up to them to save the Kingdom. As they embark on this dangerous journey, Chantel must cope with a crossbow-wielding boy, a dragon, and the patriarchs who want to control the new, fiery magic that burns inside her. But can she find the sorceresses and transform Lightning Pass into the city it was meant to be?
I absolutely loved the Jinx trilogy, so I was excited to pick up this new book from Blackwood. The super cute cover also fueled my enthusiasm, as well as the idea of a magic school—because as overdone as those can be, they’re also fun to read about. And Blackwood did handle the magic school aspect well, with less emphasis on the schooling and more emphasis on the students.
I didn’t find Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded as immediately gripping and interesting as I found Jinx, however. The beginning of the book suffers from things happening much too quickly as well as an unoriginal character type and protagonist in Chantel, who luckily gets better as the book progresses. There’s also events and interactions in the first part of the book that are laid on entirely too thick, as well as a skewed sense of world—not much is built of the world, vague mentions of taxes are thrown around to incite tension, and many times “the people” or “the citizens” or such are mentioned but there is only a vague, amorphous idea attached. The city feels as if it’s inhabited only by the characters mentioned in the book by name and no others. It makes some of the final moments less tense and more vague, in my opinion. It’s nice that Chantel cares so much about her city and the people within it, but it’s harder to care with her when what she’s protecting is a faceless mass fighting another faceless mass.
The ending was also hard to swallow, particularly what happens to Chantel, but I suppose it’s believable in the sense that no one was going to argue with a girl riding a dragon. Still, I’m not particularly content—Chantel suddenly in charge seems like a little much. Perhaps the book was simply too small to get an adequate sense of development.
I enjoyed Miss Ellicott’s School, but I found too many flaws in it and had too many problems with it to be as content and happy as I was when I read Jinx. Maybe it’s just that I don’t like a majority of female protagonists; maybe because I like my fantasy worlds a little bit more developed and my plots a little less fast-paced. It’s a good book, but Blackwood has written better.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“I have to do it because I’m the Chosen One,” said Anna. “It’s what she told me.”
“She told me I was the Chosen One too,” Chantel reminded her. “But she never said anything about coming up on the roof and spinning around.”
“She told me always to remember,” said Anna. “‘At the dawning of the day/Face the sun and turn away.’”
“How should I know? She just did,” said Anna. “Maybe it’s some kind of spell.”
Smoky the Cowhorse, by Will James, was published in 1926 by Buccaneer Books.
Smoky knows only one way of life: freedom. Living on the open range, he is free to go where he wants and to do what he wants. And he knows what he has to do to survive. He can beat any enemy, whether it be a rattlesnake or a hungry wolf. He is as much a part of the Wild West as it is of him, and Smoky can’t imagine anything else. But then he comes across a new enemy, one that walks on two legs and makes funny sounds. Smoky can’t beat this enemy the way he has all the others. But does he really want to? Or could giving up some of his freedom mean getting something in return that’s even more valuable?
Smoky the Cowhorse reminded me a great deal of Black Beauty, although it comes nowhere close to Black Beauty’s lasting power and “classicness” and, of course, the point of view is not the horse but rather either various cowboys or an omniscient narrator. The novel is about the horse named Smoky and his adventures on the range in the Old West. The things you might expect to happen do: Smoky grows up, gets into trouble occasionally, narrowly escapes the claws of predators a few times, and enjoys his freedom until the cowboys come calling.
Then, you have the requisite training period, then the bonding between the horse and the human, then the times they go out together and rope cattle, and then, of course, since happy times can’t last forever, something terrible happens and for the rest of the book you’re rooting for the horse and his human to find each other again.
It’s a good horse book in terms of hitting all the notes that you might expect in a horse book, but the downside is that the vernacular of the book itself is not easily read, especially 90 years later. It’s written as if someone from that time period and from that area was telling the story, so a lot of the terminology is unfamiliar, since it deals with herding and roping and things like that, and it’s in the accent and dialect of, presumably, a cowboy, which means there’s a lot of “figgering” and verb/subject disagreement and other things to make a grammar teacher frustrated. It makes the book seem more authentic, but at the same time I can see it being very distracting and make it hard for a reader to get into the book.
Overall, I enjoyed Smoky more than some of the other 1920s Newbery Medal books I’ve read, but to be honest, I doubt I’d pick it up again. I’d rather read Black Beauty, which tells a similar story in a better and much more memorable way.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
Smoky’s mammy took the lead, and after the rest of the bunch was thru parleying with the strange horses they joined in with her and the colt and all strung out for the foothills. The next day they all was up in high country again and everything of the day before was forgotten, forgotten, all excepting with Smoky and the other little colts. They still remembered some, on account that it had all been mighty new to ‘em, and besides, the sting of the fresh brand was there on their left thigh to remind.
Disclaimer: A Love So True, by Melissa Jagears, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Evelyn Wisely loves working at the local orphanage, but her heart can’t ignore the women of Teaville who are also in need. Her boss is willing to help build a shelter for them, but only if she gains the cooperation and financial support of other local businessmen. While David Kingsman plans to stay in Teaville just long enough to get his father’s business back on solid ground, he’s intrigued by Evelyn’s cause and finds himself more invested with each passing day. Will their plans and partnership fall apart when confronted with all that is stacked against them, or can they trust in God’s plan despite it all?
A Love So True is not as immediately gripping or as deep in message as the book that came before it, A Heart Most Certain, but it has a lot of charm, a decent romance, and some good things to say.
The novel continues with the story line of the first book, with Evelyn helping at an orphanage for children of prostitutes and with Lydia and she still determined to help the prostitutes themselves. While that particular message was told much better in A Heart Most Certain, Jagears still does a good job of communicating how we should help those in need. It’s unfortunate that Heart’s message was much more impactful and prominent whereas Love’s message is much weaker and more obscure (honestly, the only thing I can think of after reading it is “Don’t keep secrets”), because even though Jagears is still a good writer, there’s a noticeable drop in quality, at least in my eyes.
The romance is good, although the ending of it is filled with too much contrivance and clichés for me to really love it. I hate that every author seems to think that they need to have one last angst-filled separation between their love interests before they can finally get together. Love’s in particular was noticeably forced—I don’t mean the reason for Evelyn and David’s separation, which I actually quite liked because Jagears subtly poked fun at what the reader was likely thinking was Evelyn’s big secret, but what came after. David, knowing his father’s ways, still decides to go along with what he says. Evelyn, knowing what David has said about his father, still actually thinks she can trust what he says. It was forced tension, incredibly contrived, and annoying. It ruined the book for me, a little.
A Love So True is not as good as its predecessor, but it’s engaging, has some good things to say (even if it’s hard to pull out an overarching theme or message), and is written well. I wish the ending hadn’t been so forced because it spoiled my enjoyment of the entirety, but if I ignore the stupid things the characters did at the end, the romance was good and the characters themselves were well-developed. At least until they were forced to act in certain ways to generate tension.
Gay-Neck, The Story of a Pigeon, by Dhan Gopal Mukerji, was published in 1927 by Dutton.
The heartwarming and sometimes almost heartbreaking story of the training and care of a carrier pigeon. Writing out of his own experience as a boy in India, Dhan Mukerji tells how Gay-Neck’s master, an eager, highly-sensitive lad, sent his prized pigeon to serve in World War I, and of how, because of exceptional training and his brave heart, Gay-Neck served his new masters heroically.
I found Gay-Neck, The Story of a Pigeon, the most interesting of the early Newbery Medal’s I’ve read so far, barring The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle. That’s not to say it enthralled me, but it was better than the dense and confusing The Dark Frigate and a much better story than any of the myths in Tales from Silver Lands. It was also a very quick read for me, which I’m citing as a positive since I was beginning to fall behind in my reading when I started Gay-Neck.
Much of the interest of Gay-Neck, for me, was not the story of a pigeon and his adventures leading up to and during World War I. It was the description of India and its culture. I always enjoy it when an author so clearly knows a culture different than the one I do, and, since Mukerji grew up in India, he’s even more qualified to describe it and make it approachable for American readers (I say American since the Newbery medal is an American award). And since this was written during a time when lots of people were traveling abroad and the British still occupied India, it’s nice to get a glimpse of the mountains, valleys, and jungles of India through the eyes of an Indian.
So, yes, the culture part of it interested me. The actual story of Gay-Neck, not so much. I’ve read better animal books before, and let’s face it, I’m more into horses than pigeons. The pages-long descriptions of Gay-Neck flying to avoid the claws of an eagle may be riveting to some, but I found myself skimming a lot of it. There’s also only so many times Gay-Neck can disappear and his owner wonder if he’s dead before all the suspense is drained out of the event entirely.
Gay-Neck is definitely a step up from previous Newbery Medal winners, but despite its lavish and loving descriptions of India and Indian culture, it’s not particularly exciting or enthralling. It’s a good look at how carrier pigeons were used, and, of course, as I’ve already mentioned, its depiction of India is beautiful, but it falls apart a little in terms of mechanics and holding the reader’s interest.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction
But this [bird] was coming straight, like an arrow. In another two minutes my doubts were dispelled. It was a hawk making for little Gay-Neck. I looked up and beheld a miraculous sight. His father was tumbling steadily down in order to reach his level, while his mother, bent on the same purpose, was making swift downward curves. Ere the terrible hawk had come within ten yards of the innocent little fellow, both his flanks were covered. Now the three flew downwards at a right angle from the path of their enemy. Undeterred by such a move, the hawk charged.
Disclaimer: The Maggie Bright, by Tracy Groot, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
England, 1940. Clare Childs knew life would change when she unexpectedly inherited the Maggie Bright—a noble fifty-two-foot yacht. In fact, she’s counting on it. But the boat harbors secrets. When a stranger arrives, searching for documents hidden on board, Clare is pulled into a Scotland Yard investigation that could shed light on Hitler’s darkest schemes and prompt America to action. Across the Channel, Hitler’s Blitzkrieg has the entire British Army in retreat with little hope for rescue at the shallow beaches of Dunkirk. With time running out, Churchill recruits civilian watercraft to help. Hitler is attacking from land, air, and sea, and any boat that goes may not return. Yet Clare knows the Maggie Bright must answer the call—piloted by an American who has refused to join the war effort until now and a detective with a very personal motive for exposing the truth. The fate of the war hinges on this rescue. While two men join the desperate fight, a nation prays for a miracle.
My rating: 3/5
The Maggie Bright tells the story of the historic rescue of the British army at Dunkirk. And, when it gets to that point, it’s exactly as nailbiting and tense as you might expect, with bombs falling, planes strafing, and soldiers eager to escape certain death. If you didn’t know much about Dunkirk before, this book will certainly inform you on some of the important aspects, such as the call for civilian craft and the routes the boats took to avoid mines.
However, while the Dunkirk part of the book is good, the lead-up to it is a little strange. There’s a mysterious package, which really serves as a MacGuffin device to get the characters to act, a shadowy figure who wants it, and a whole lot of convenience. Plus, once Dunkirk occurs, all of that investigation and mystery are swept under the rug and never brought up again.
So, the first half of the book I thought was heavily flawed: odd characters, a plot that shapes together slowly, resolves quickly, and then transforms into something completely different, a romance that springs out of nowhere and is completely unnecessary, and a whole lot of talk about a package and the person after it that ultimately ends up not even mattering. The second half is better, though weighed down by that first half—a tense lead-up to the rescue at Dunkirk, the rescue itself, and then the aftermath. If the novel had just been about that without the extraneous bits at the beginning, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot better.
The Maggie Bright starts out poorly, but ends more strongly, with a pretty riveting telling of the rescue at Dunkirk. I think its flaws outweigh its strengths, unfortunately, but at the very least, it’s got me interested in seeing the movie about Dunkirk that comes out later this year.
When Ari’s mother died four years ago, she made Ari promise that she and her older brother, Gage, would stay together always. So when Gage decides he can no longer live with their bossy guardian, Janna, Ari knows she has to go with him, even though they don’t have an apartment yet. Instead, Gage and Ari “couch surf,” crashing with friends or sneaking into shelters to escape the cold Maine nights. In all this chaos, there is one thing that gives Ari comfort: her Paper Things. She knows she’s too old to play with the paper people she’s cut out of magazines over the years, but it’s nice to pretend to have a big, happy family and a house with a room all her own. Of course, it would be better if she didn’t have to pretend.
Paper Things, though a little clumsy in execution, is a sweet book about family, love, determination, and the problems and emotions that can arise from keeping (or not keeping) secrets. The problems that Ari faces and the solutions that come about flow naturally from each other, so nothing seems contrived, forced, or too over-the-top to seem unrealistic. Enough is explained of Gage and Janna’s relationship to understand both why Gage left and why Janna didn’t pick much of a fight about Ari leaving. And, though Ari and Gage never seem to be in any real danger, there is enough hinted at that gives the vague feeling of danger for these two siblings while they are without their own home.
The book is marred by only one major thing: the author’s tendency to philosophize, moralize and explain all of Ari’s symbolic decisions through Ari’s thoughts and dialogue. This gets especially bad at the end, when, of course, everything turns out all right and Ari grows up and Learns Things and reflects back on her experiences—basically, a whole lot of telling when it’s not needed, because we’ve already been shown how Ari has changed. Having her philosophize for the last two chapters was gilding the lily and nearly ruined the entire book for me.
Paper Things is good, but it’s prevented from being great by the at-times clumsy writing and the whole lot of “let me tell you what I’ve already showed through my actions” that goes on at the end. Maybe middle grade readers need that sort of thing shoved down their throats, but I doubt it—subtle tends to be much more powerful than explicit and much longer lasting in impact. There’s very little that makes this book bad, but there’s a whole lot stopping it from being great.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic
I yank the folder out of his hands and place it at the bottom of the pile of books. He’s still clutching Miles, though.
“Give,” I say, making a grab for him.
But Briggs pulls his arm back playfully. And as quick as that, Miles tears in two.
I can’t believe I’m only holding half of him in my fingers. Miles was the first person I ever cut out of a catalog. I have played with him in our apartment on Crest Street, at Sasha’s, and Janna’s, and every place we’ve stayed since.
My eyes don’t tear up. I don’t say anything. I’m more invisible than invisible.
Castle of Shadows, by Ellen Renner, was published in 2012 by Houghton Mifflin.
Ever since the Queen mysteriously disappeared and the King went mad five years ago, eleven-year-old Princess Charlie has lived a wild and mostly unsupervised life in the country of Quale, running amok through the castle instead of following affairs of state. Now revolution whispers through the air, and Charlie is powerless to stop it. Then she discovers a clue: a desperate, unfinished letter scribbled years before by the missing Queen. Charlie doesn’t understand the danger her mother writes of, but she does know that she absolutely must be found—together, they can surely save the King and the kingdom. So plucky Charlie embarks on a quest to track down her mother, armed with the precious scrap of paper and with Tobias, the gardener’s boy, as an unlikely ally. Putting away her tattered old clothes, she must deal with games of political intrigue, the rebels’ rough-laid schemes, and the prime minister’s sudden interest in the forgotten princess’s well-being. And every step closer to the Queen pulls Charlie deeper into an entangling web of lies and secrets, where nothing is as it seems and people are not who they say.
I relatively enjoyed Castle of Shadows, though there were parts of it that made me sigh. The book is what you might expect from a “castle/monarch fallen into a bad state” plot, complete with a wild and untrained princess, villainous servants, and absent parents. The ambience of it does appropriately fit the name; the castle is always described in gloomy and cold terms and nothing about it brings forth the image of a bright, friendly castle, such as in Jessica Day George’s Castle Glower series. There’s enough mystery and intrigue and villainy to fit that tone, and the main villain, at least, is a complex one. You never quite know what he actually thinks or what his actual plan is, and he has that air of simple regret that makes it hard to violently hate him as one might the housekeeper, O’Dair, and her mustache-twirling ways.
I’m not overly fond of Charlie and her character type; I don’t like “wild” characters or ones that do stupid things because they think they know better than everyone else around them. But she does improve over time, and she does have a few flaws to even out all her impulsive actions that usually turn out all right for her. She’s described as being “afraid of the dark” but her fear is actually claustrophobia; she’s fine running around the castle at night, but she can’t handle enclosed spaces. Or perhaps it’s the complete absence of light she fears, rather than the ambiguous dark?
The plot is fairly complex, though it’s ruined a bit by the actions of O’Dair and Watch, who act a little too absurdly and a little too one-dimensionally to be taken completely seriously as villains. But, of course, there must be villainous servants in these types of stories to add an extra layer of tension and another obstacle for our plucky princess to overcome before confronting the real villain.
Castle of Shadows has a fitting name, as Renner uses description quite effectively to really give the sense of a shadowy, eerie setting. The plot and Charlie herself aren’t particularly original, and the plot in particular, though complex and twisty, is marred by the presence of two-bit villains such as O’Dair. Also, I’m not sure I like the ending—everything ends a bit too neatly and perfectly. However, I enjoyed a majority of the book, and its flaws are nothing too glaring and distracting to spoil it much.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“Where did you find this? Have you shown it to anyone else?”
The look in his eyes scared her. “I-I found it in a book.” Why was he so upset? “A book I took from the library. I remember my mother reading it to me just before she disappeared. And of course I haven’t shown it to anyone else.”
“Good! Do not! Promise me. Let me keep this letter for you…or, better yet, let me destroy it—” He made a movement towards the hob and its glowing fire.
Anne Shirley is grown up, has married her beloved Gilbert and now is the mother of six mischievous children. These boys and girls discover a special place all their own, but they never dream of what will happen when the strangest family moves into an old nearby mansion. The Meredith clan is two boys and two girls, with minister father but no mother — and a runaway girl named Mary Vance. Soon the Meredith kids join Anne’s children in their private hideout to carry out their plans to save Mary from the orphanage, to help the lonely minister find happiness, and to keep a pet rooster from the soup pot. There’s always an adventure brewing in the sun-dappled world of Rainbow Valley.
In my review of Anne of Ingleside, I mentioned how I preferred Rainbow Valley, but now having read the latter, I actually think the former is my favorite of the “Anne’s children” books—unless Rilla of Ingleside takes that honor, of course. Rainbow Valley is good, but the Meredith children are no replacement for the Blythe family. And while I do get some guilty pleasure out of pining romances, Mr. Meredith and Rosemary’s drags on a little too long. There’s also some contrived nonsense sitting in the way, of course, as Montgomery is fond of the dramatic romances.
There are some good things about the novel, of course—the build-up to World War I is patently obvious and already Montgomery foreshadows just how much this will shake up the Blythe family. This book was written before Rilla of Ingleside, but I think Montgomery had certain things in mind even during this book because the foreshadowing and telegraphing are quite strong. In addition, there were some conversations about God and theology that had me laughing out loud. Montgomery certainly has a way with phrasing things exactly how children would phrase them, which is precisely why the original Anne of Green Gables is so beloved.
However, Rainbow Valley still can’t hold a candle to Anne, and I think it’s because Montgomery is trying too hard to recapture the charm of the first book. Also, while reading, I had this nagging feeling that Anne is not actually the best mother to her children. Of course, with Montgomery’s focus on the children, and especially the Meredith children, it could be that we just don’t see enough of Anne for me to seriously make that argument. And Montgomery doesn’t help Anne out either, because once again Shirley is mentioned briefly at the beginning of the novel and then vanishes, never to be mentioned again—not by Anne nor by the narrator, who lists all the Blythe children and what they’re doing, except for Shirley. Like I did in Anne of Ingleside, I ask: why bother giving Anne this child if he’s not even going to be mentioned? It really doesn’t do any favors to how Anne looks as a mother. But perhaps I’m obsessing too much.
Rainbow Valley is good, but there are one too many shenanigans featuring the Meredith children and the book runs out of steam about 3/4s of the way through as a result. Also, I’m still not as fond of the married-with-children-Anne, due to the fact that her glib, laughing nature makes her seem like a shockingly airheaded and uncaring mother, arguably.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“Well, you kids have gone and done it now,” was Mary’s greeting, as she joined them in the Valley. Miss Cornelia was up at Ingleside, holding agonized conclave with Anne and Susan, and Mary hoped that the session might be a long one, for it was all of two weeks since she had been allowed to revel with her chums in the dear valley of rainbows.
“Done what?” demanded everybody but Walter, who was day-dreaming as usual.
“It’s you manse young ones, I mean,” said Mary. “It was just awful of you. I wouldn’t have done such a thing for the world, and I weren’t brought up in a manse— weren’t brought up ANYWHERE— just COME up.”
“What have WE done?” asked Faith blankly.
“Well, you kids have gone and done it now,” was Mary’s greeting, as she joined them in the Valley. Miss Cornelia was up at Ingleside, holding agonized conclave with Anne and Susan, and Mary hoped that the session might be a long one, for it was all of two weeks since she had been allowed to revel with her chums in the dear valley of rainbows. “Done what?” demanded everybody but Walter, who was day-dreaming as usual. “It’s you manse young ones, I mean,” said Mary. “It was just awful of you. I wouldn’t have done such a thing for the world, and I weren’t brought up in a manse— weren’t brought up ANYWHERE— just COME up.”
“What have WE done?” asked Faith blankly.
“Done! You’d BETTER ask! The talk is something terrible. I expect it’s ruined your father in this congregation. He’ll never be able to live it down, poor man! Everybody blames him for it, and that isn’t fair. But nothing IS fair in this world. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, by R. L. LaFevers, was published in 2007 by Houghton Mifflin.
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 lurking in the museum’s dark hallways. When Theo’s mother returns from her latest archaeological dig bearing the Heart of Egypt—a legendary amulet belonging to an ancient tomb—Theo learns that it comes inscribed with a curse so black and vile that it threatens to crumble the British Empire from within and start a war too terrible to imagine. Theo 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 reminds me a little bit of a much tamer version of Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles, minus the gods, or maybe something more along the lines ofSerafina and the Black Cloak combined with Withering-by-Sea. I’m not really a fan of the “young girl is more competent than the adults around her” trope, but Theodosia has some good moments with her parents and there are enough competent adults that it slightly alleviated my disgruntlement with the trope.
The plot revolving around the Heart of Egypt was a little hard to follow, especially once Theodosia gets to Egypt and the tomb, and there were one or two plot threads that seemed totally random (i.e., the whole thing with Isis getting possessed, which seemed completely unnecessary), but I do like how LaFevers wove in the tension leading up to World War I with her supernatural/fantasy plot so that amidst all the magic and cursed artifacts lies that historical thread. LaFevers also includes a lot of other little things about that time period, too, such as Britain’s occupation of Egypt and their archaeological fervor, Kaiser Wilhelm, the growing tension with Germany, and other historical facts that, again, lend a nice note of reality to the supernatural premise of the novel.
While I didn’t enjoy it so much that I’m itching to pick up the second novel, Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos was enjoyable enough that I wouldn’t mind reading more, if only to find out more about the ambiguous “forces of Chaos,” the secret society that Theodosia stumbles across sworn to combat them, and how other historical details will fit in with the story as it unfolds. The main thing holding me back from immediately getting the next book is my annoyance at Theodosia as a protagonist, who is one of those smart-alecky characters who always knows what to do better than the characters around her. Theodosia, luckily, has a few flaws which makes her more endearing and less annoying, but I’m still not incredibly pleased with her.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
Luckily, everyone’s eyes were focused on the artifact so they didn’t see me shiver violently, as if I’d just caught a ghastly chill. The truth of it was, whatever was in that package was cursed with something so powerful and vile it made me feel as if my whole body were covered in stinging ants. When Mother lifted off the last bit of paper, she held a large scarab carved out of precious stone in her hand. IT had gold wings curving out of its side and they were inlaid with thousands and thousands of jewels. A large round carnelian, the size of a cherry, sat at the head, and a smaller green stone decorate the bottom of the beetle. “The Heart of Egypt,” she announced. “Straight from Amenemhab’s tomb.”