“Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra” by Stuart Gibbs is exactly the kind of middle grade fiction that teachers adore. And there are so many reasons to adore this clever and well-written adventure. The main character, Charlie, is a wonderful main character. She’s smart, adventurous, has high morals, admits her physical failings, and has a bit of an attitude. In short, she’s like many of the kids who will enjoy this series.
In the first book, “Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation,” we learn that Charlie has unlimited resources because when a huge corporation stole her software, she stole back a portion of what her software earned them. In this novel, Charlie is searching for a treasure that Cleopatra left behind. The prologue takes place in 30 BCE, during Cleopatra’s last day on earth. We learn why she killed herself, but as the novel progresses, we learn a lot more about Cleopatra and her brilliance.
Teachers love novels that teach morals, but we also love stories that impart information in a manner which makes it interesting and relevant. Charlie explains to her brother that Cleopatra didn’t think she was born in 60 BC, because there was no BC. Back then “almost every culture had its own calendar, and none of them agreed on much. What we have now is a mishmash of several calendars, which is why half our days of the week are named after Norse gods, like Wodin’s Day, and Thor’s Day, and the other half are named after Greed and Roman gods, like Saturn’s Day and Mar’s Day.” She then explains that the Roman calendar was a mess because they only had 10 months and just added 50 days each year. She also tells him why months with obvious prefixes like October and November (eight and nine) are really the tenth and eleventh month. Because the Romans took the extra days and put them into months in the summer, and named them after emperors. Why does February have the fewest months? Because Octavian, who became known as Augustus Caesar (August), didn’t like that his month was shorter than that of Julius Caesar, July. So he took days from February and added them to August.
Students will learn about where the word “capitol” came from. Gibbs tell us, “Capitoline Hill had been the seat of the Roman government, for which reason the word “capitol” was derived from it. Capitoline Hill, he tells us, was one of the “famed Seven Hills that the ancient city had been built upon.” While we learn a lot about the brilliance of the early Greeks in the arts, literature, architecture, we cringe when Gibbs elucidates about the barbarism of the Romans. During the inauguration of the Colosseum, the emperor Titus presided over the slaughter of thousands of lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and hippos. “Ultimately, over one million animals would be killed at the Colosseum.” In fact, the existence of the Colosseum resulted in the extinction of most wild animals in northern Africa. We then learn about the human toll resulting from the Romans bloodthirsty entertainment and need for more land and more power.
All of this information is presented as we watch Charlie travel the world, eluding criminals and special forces from foreign countries, in her search for Cleopatra’s treasure. It’s not a treasure as one might think of a treasure, like gold or jewels. Rather it’s one of the many special items on the list that Einstein left of brilliant figures from the past who left items of special interest and concern hidden because of their fears that those discoveries might be used for evil instead of good.
Gibbs is a brilliant writer and this book is as exciting as the first and second entries in this series. “Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation” and “Charlie Thorne and the Lost City” are both fabulous and entertaining (and informational) reads. All three books are filled with action, adventure, and history. Kids will devour them; adults will enjoy them as well.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by Simon & Schuster for review purposes.