October 5, 2012

Review: Keeper of the Lost Cities

Keeper of the Lost Cities Book One of the Lost Cities
By Shannon Messenger
Available now from Aladdin (Simon & Schuster)
Review copy

I've seen KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES advertised as both the new Harry Potter and Hunger Games.  Now, it shares a lot of DNA with the Harry Potter books, but I think the Hunger Games comparison just means they think it's going to be big.

Sophie Foster always knew she wasn't normal.  For one thing, she was a prodigy.  For another, she could read minds.  But she didn't know there were others like her until a boy found her in a museum and explained that she was an elf and needed to go home and live with her people.  Suddenly Sophie must leave behind the people she thought were her family and adapt to a new land, where she already has some enemies due to her unusual upbringing.  But she does get to go to magic school!  (Sophie is somewhat less excited about this than Harry.)

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES doesn't fall into the dystopian fiction category, but Shannon Messenger does seem to understand dystopias better than many of the authors writing in that genre.  Shangri-La is supposed to be a land of peace and understanding, where people have money but don't need it.  But things are clearly not as good for the common people as the nobility.  Sophie is frequently brought before a tribunal on unfair charges, and references are made to precedents that might not have been the best rulings.  Plus there's someone using magic to set fires in the human world - and no one wants to do a thing about it.

For the most part, KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES is really fun.  Sophie is special, but not too special.  She's neither good at alchemy nor transporting herself from place to place.  The fact that she gave up her family is not forgotten and integrating into a new family isn't easy.  And, of course, magical schools are always exciting.  Messenger's magic system seems pretty well defined, which is always a good thing.

I did have some problems with the story.  Considering KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES is about a twelve year old, there is a lot of emphasis on boys and dating.  Sophie has no less than three prospective suitors.  It's also quite long for a middle grade novel.  I think relutant readers will remain reluctant when faced with close to five hundred pages.  Harry Potter built up to longer entries in the series. 

The plot also jumps around.  There's the learning and socializing, finding the arsonist, and finding out the secrets of her past.  I thought the arsonist would be the action plot contained to KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, but the fiend's identity remains undiscovered at the end of the novel.  There's a decent amount of action, but I just wanted a little more.

I enjoyed KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES and think Shannon Messenger is an author to watch, but I'm not convinced that the Lost Cities is the next Harry Potter.  I do think that the many fans who have read the Harry Potter series (likely more than once) and want to read something new will probably enjoy KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES.  It's also a good pick for Artemis Fowl fans.


  1. Being told you're an elf by a random person must be quite something! I like the usage of a "perfect world" as a dystopia in the way you've summarised it. It doesn't sound like the numerous recent uses of happy world-bad government where everyone has the same hard times as everyone else. Despite the drawbacks it does seem a good substitute when other series have finished.

    1. Yep, there were a few issues, but it is her first book. I'm interested in where this series will go.

  2. Hmm... I think part of the reason I love middle grade books is that they're short. My attention span, my reading time, my reading speed - these all conspire against 500-page books.

    That said, I've heard good things about this story, and I'm still intrigued by it. Maybe just not intrigued enough to read it right away.

    1. That's a great point. I think KotLC is a bit too long for the age group, but hadn't thought that it might also work against the appeal of MG for adults who crossover.

  3. Sounds like a fun story, but yeah, the length and emphasis on romance seems a bit too much for an MG. At least for the first in an MG series. I hate when people say it's "the new harry potter" or such because it's impossible to live up to that!


    1. I understand "the new Harry Potter" as a marketing tactic, but it's definitely a tired phrase and sets up crazy expectations.

  4. Sounds interesting. I'll keep an eye on it and its reviews. :)

    Whenever I hear a phrase that compares one book to another book (or author) I generally put the first book down and go find the other book/author. ;)

    I was just commenting on another blog that I tend to prefer YA lit with boy protagonists instead of girls. The reason for this is because I'm dead tired of reading about whiny girls trying to figure out which guy they like best. That just annoys me. Sounds like this is another of those books. *sigh*

    1. Eh, I've read plenty of great YA and MG female protagonists. And I certainly wouldn't call Sophie "whiny." But I'm definitely tired of a lot of standard romance subplots.


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