Book Two of the Keeper of the Lost Cities
By Shannon Messenger
Available now from Aladdin (Simon & Schuster)
Read my review of Keeper of the Lost Cities
I had an interesting experience with KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES. That was one of the few times a reader contacted me for more detail, because they'd read a negative review, but trusted my judgment - and my review was positive. I told them that I thought the criticisms were fair, but that I'd had a more positive reaction to the book. Thus, I was definitely willing to read EXILE and see where the story went. I think Shannon Messenger is taking her series in the right direction.
EXILE is the continuing story of Sophie, who grew up in our world before discovering she was an elf. Now she's struggling to learn how to use her powers and caught between the Council and the Black Swan, a possible terrorist group. There also appears to be a third group in the mix.
There are less Harry Potter comparisons in EXILE. Sophie is still attending magic school, but the new year is just starting up, so she isn't very busy with classwork and most of the story takes place after school. The romance is also shut down to all but a few hints, thankfully. Instead, Sophie's friendship with the three boys is emphasized. She spends time building real relationships with them.
Sophie is still a special snowflake, but in EXILE, her special powers aren't the answer to everything. In fact, sometimes they're a problem. She's also learning to work with other people's strengths, because one person never has the answer to everything. I did quite enjoy this passage:
"You are normal, Sophie. That doesn't mean you can't also be exceptional."
"You realize those two things are opposites, right?"
"Actually, someday you'll find that when you stop equating normal with acceptance, the two are far more similar than you think." -p. 173, ARC
I flip-flopped between liking the worldbuilding and finding it too strange to hold. The servant gnomes show signs of being less obedient than expected, which was nice. The Council is vaguely sinister and draconian, but I don't get a real sense that I'm supposed to suspect them of villainy. Their zoo that is supposed to save the world sounds like the worst thing ever. And I just can't figure out whether that's on purpose. But the strange bit is that the elves can't handle guilt. Even after it being integral to the book, I haven't quite figured it out. I feel guilty for jumping when someone startles me. Totally nice people who don't do bad things feel guilt. Maybe I need to be a kid to go with it.
I think that EXILE moved faster than KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, even though they're about the same length. There's more adventure and mystery, less setup. At the same time, I am a bit miffed that there's been two books and zero keeping of lost cities. I feel like this series is still finding its footing, but I'm willing to stick with it because the books are fun. They have a telepathic unicorn! (Okay, alicorn, but it's really a flying telepathic unicorn.)