Book Reviews 2015 · Fantasy Books · Middle Grade Book Reviews

‘Keeper of the Lost Cities’ by Shannon Messenger

Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She is a Telepath, and has a unique ability to hear the thoughts of everyone around her – something she’s never known how to explain, and has made her an outcast, even in her own family. But everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there’s somewhere she does belong, and staying where she is will put her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind everything and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from her own.

Sophie has new rules and skills to learn, and not everyone is thrilled with her ‘homecoming’. There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory, secrets that other people desperately want. Would even kill for…

5 Stars

This is clearly the month of the middle grade: I’ve already read ‘Doll Bones’ by Holly Black and ‘Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth’ by Rick Riordan, and in the period between finishing this book and writing this review, I have also read C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ (which I will not be reviewing in full – more on this in my next weekly wrap-up). I continued this trend with another children’s book, although this one was on my monthly TBR: ‘Keeper of the Lost Cities’ by Shannon Messenger. I had heard quite a few good things about this book and it does have a rather high Goodreads average score of 4.41, but it seems to me like not that many people had read or heard of it, so I was intrigued as to how good it really was. I wish that this book had been around when I was 10 or so, as I think that it would have become a firm favourite. Even though I am not 10 anymore, I can still say that this book was very enjoyable.

First thing to say is, yes, this is your typical ‘Harry Potter’/‘Percy Jackson’ ‘kid doesn’t know that they are (insert special race here) and could be the one to save everything’ kind of story. No, it is not plagiarism of any other popular children’s book, as I have seen it called before. People seem very hasty to jump on the ‘plagiarism’ bandwagon whenever a middle grade book with some kind of magical school is released, but they fail to realise that magical schools/camps etc. have been the setting for many children’s books over the years and this does not write them off as a copy. No, this is similar to other books of its type (but come one, how much variation is there in middle grade really?) but it is not a copy, so do not make that assumption before you start it.

In this book, the mysterious race which Sophie is unwittingly a part of is elves. That’s a new one – I cannot recall reading a book where elves are the primary race, and this was something which I felt boosted my enjoyment: had this book been another wizard or faerie book, I feel that while I would have enjoyed it, it would seem a little less gripping. The elves are not typical – they have their own magical abilities and categorisation, and I would love to know a little more about the way in which their system works (fingers crossed for the next one).

Sophie is the typical middle grade hero – she is ‘the one’ who will be able to save the world. I had absolutely no problem with this, but if you do, bear that in mind. I think that Sophie was a strong character; she wasn’t perfect and she made some rather stupid decisions, but she was intelligent and she knew when she had done wrong. She was also feeling some of the isolation and confusion that the typical twelve-year-old would face, so in that aspect she is not too far-stretched from how the average reader of the book would be feeling at the time. The other characters were fantastic. My particular favourites were Fitz and Elwin. Fitz was supportive and acted very much like Sophie’s older brother, and I think that there is an element to him which is still rather mysterious and that I would like to know more about. Elwin is the doctor whose fun quips and amusing behaviour had me laughing, yet the genuine care he has for Sophie is heart-warming. Alden is an intriguing character: he retains information from Sophie, which is infuriating, but he does also care for her, which creates an interesting dynamic in the way he handles situations. Sophie’s guardians, Grady and Edaline, had their own back-story (not giving spoilers here) which gave their character a great deal more depth, Tiergan was an uncertainty whom I liked but do have some suspicions about for later, and Keefe is hilarious (if slightly odd). The only character I did not like was Sophie’s best friend Dex, as his possessiveness and jealousy of Sophie’s other friends quickly grew tiresome, however I will give him the benefit of the doubt for the future instalments.

The plot regarding Sophie’s heritage and exactly why she has the skills that she does was interesting to follow. It did surprise me at points, and the plot did follow some routes which I did not really think it might take. A few aspects were predictable, but as a whole, it surprised me more than I was expecting it to for a book targeted at 10-year-olds (make of that what you will). I adored the story and flew through this book, only putting it down once sixty pages in, as it was 2am (this was my fault for starting it at 1am, so I would have had to put it down for a bit eventually).

Shannon Messenger’s writing was good: it was easy to follow and the way in which she leaked information, often using Alden and Grady, kept me intrigued throughout. The book also does something which I greatly enjoyed – the prologue is a snippet in reference to the climax of the book. I love this kind of foreshadowing, and in fact the first book I attempted to write myself used this technique, so it is something which I am very fond of. This book does have 488 pages, but it does not seem any longer than 300 when reading it. Yes, it is a middle grade so I should have gotten through it quickly regardless, but the writing and the fascinating plot ensured that I flew through it in a few hours, only stopping to sleep in the early hours of the morning.

Choosing to pick this book up was a very good decision. It is a series which I am rather fond of now, and I will be picking up the other however many books there are out already. I wish that I had the opportunity to read this when I was younger, but as I didn’t, I’m going to add this to my list of middle grade guilty pleasures and read on.

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