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