Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh (R.L. LaFevers)

The Plot
At the end of the last book, Theodosia set out with her mother to Egypt. Their avowed purpose was to search for the temple of Thutmose III, but Theodosia had a secret mission of her own: to return the Emerald Tablet to the secret wedjadeen before the Serpents of Chaos could get their hands on it. She soon manages to make contact with the wedjadeen, but not before she discovers Chaos is on her trail.

My Thoughts
Far from the flying visit to Egypt which encompassed the last couple of chapters of Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, Egypt is the main setting for this book. Theodosia and her mother have set out on an archaeological expedition to discover the temple of Thutmose III before someone else can locate and get the credit for it. In addition to this, Theo has brought along some of the powerful Egyptian artifacts she’s come into possession of through the course of the series, with the intention of returning them to their rightful guardians.

The journey into Egypt is full of period detail, most of which seems reasonably historically accurate based on my own limited knowledge of Egyptian-British history and some quick internet research. Theodosia finds herself in the midst of some political unrest, with the Egyptian Nationalist party protesting and agitating for the British colonial rule to end. This is of limited interest to her, as her own tasks occupy her thoughts and provide her with plenty to worry about.

Because Theo’s mother is not ‘in the know’ with respect to her involvement with various secret societies and ancient magics, the book’s plot develops along parallel lines even moreso than in previous installments, where Theo’s time with her parents was more incidental. So part of the time we spend with Mrs. Throckmorton on the “dig”. Her lack of interest in following any sort of procedure or, apparently, any archaeological methods is rather more Tomb Raider than not — not atypical for the period, not unforeshadowed, but surprising to the reader and also to Theodosia herself. This is also the first time we really see Theodosia spend any extended time with one of her parents, and I was left with an uneasy feeling from the interactions with her mother.

But that may just be par for the course: I get an uneasy feeling when Theodosia deals with almost any adult in this series, including her parents, something which continues through this volume. Whether or not this is purposeful on the part of LaFevers I’m not sure, but the only adult character I’ve been able to accept at face value is Theodosia’s grandmother. All the others seem to have their own hidden agenda with the potential of turning out to be traitorous evildoers at any moment.

Her child-companions do not present this problem, and Theo acquires a new one very early on in this book, the Egyptian donkey boy Gadji whom she ‘hires’ as a servant. I admit that I spent the first third of the book bracing myself for either Theo’s brother or her street-urchin friend Sticky Will to pop out of nowhere and it was a relief when they did not. Gadji is necessarily less developed than either of those two boys, but his arrival is handled well and his participation is not heavy handed.

The book does an excellent job in forwarding the ongoing plot with new revelations and clues while also providing a story which wraps up by the final chapter. I certainly wouldn’t recommend jumping into the series on this book, but the point is you probably could. There are also quite a few nice little bits sprinkled in (Habiba, for one — I could have stood to see more of her) and one or two things that I thought could have used more explanation (the wedjadeen’s insistence upon a male pharaoh — since we know there is precedent otherwise). But overall it was a strong installment; the decision to change the setting was wise, as the middle of a continuing series can bog down and this kept things from feeling stale.

In Short
As we become more embroiled in the ongoing plot, the Theodosia series continues to improve from its so-so beginnings. This entry in the series shifts its setting from London to Egypt, meaning that a number of recurring characters do not appear — a wise choice on the part of LaFevers, who resisted what must have been a real temptation to have one or two of them pop up to lend a hand. It’s unclear if the new characters introduced here will have a continuing role in the series, but they were interesting enough that I can hope for their return. We also get a more revealing glimpse of Theodosia’s mother, which felt as if it might be setting up for conflict later on. The introduction of new players in the game and the new setting helps build this volume to a satisfying conclusion while still driving the whole of the series toward a climax that feels as if it must come relatively soon.

eARC was provided by netGalley. Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh will be available in April, 2011.