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Tales from the Bargain Bin

DrMM's blog about books, the universe and everything (actually, just books). I currently read mostly YA/MG fantasy, although the only thing I won't read is horror.

Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities - Shannon Messenger

I've been meaning to write this review for a very long time because I love and adore this book (and its sequel even more!). However, after rereading it several times, I'm not quite sure I can articulate why. However, I shall do my best.


Summary: 12 year-old Sophie Foster is a child genius with a big secret -- she's a telepath. However, when Sophie meets a boy named Fitz, she learns that her abilities are because she's not human. She's actually an elf with a mysterious connection to an Elvish secret society called the Black Swan. As Sophie learns more about her connection to the Black Swan, this connection will eventually threaten her life.


What I liked: I have to admit that a lot of things that would usually annoy me don't. For example, Sophie is a fairly stereotypical fantasy heroine -- the mysterious, perfect new girl with amazing powers. Those type of characters usually have an unrealistic character flaw that's actually not much of a flaw. But while Sophie does have her flaws, I never felt that they were unrealistic. In fact, they make perfect sense given her human background which makes her a fairly likable main character. Also, I think it would usually drive me crazy that there are three potential love interests for Sophie but since it's pretty incidental (thankfully), I don't mind it. Besides, it's pretty obvious early on that one is a red herring. Besides, I actually like all three of them as characters, which is pretty unusual (I vote Team Dex, btw).


As for the plot, even though the whole concept of secret societies and underground terrorist groups aren't new ones, I still found it very intriguing. I can't wait to find out who Mr. Forkle is (although I suspect we meet him for the first time in Exile) and why the Black Swan really created Sophie.


The other thing I like about this book is the presence of adult characters who do more than just exist. Far too many children's books reduce adult characters to nothing more than villains or useless caricatures. Sophie actually talks to the adults in her life -- Alden, Tiergan, Grady and Edaline. And unlike other children's fantasy books, when she goes off and does something on her own, she doesn't do it because she doesn't think about them or trust them.


What I loved: I think what that stood out most to me about this book was how well the concept of grief was explored. Far too many books that deal with grief end up being so focused on the grief that they end up being too depressing for words. Keeper takes a much more nuanced approach: while grief never goes away, it's still possible to find happiness after tragedy.


What I didn't like: As someone who was somewhat of a misfit at school, the major thing that made me uncomfortable was the treatment of Valin and his friends by Keefe, Sophie and pretty much everyone else. Valin and his friends are Firefox's version of geeky losers. Keefe makes fun of Valin's crush on Sophie and there are frequent comments about drooling that I really thought was mean-spirited. I suppose that it's pretty realistic but ... Sophie was that kid in her human life. I really wish she would have done more to at least stop the mean comments rather than let them slide. And frankly, unless Valin or one of the other kids turns out to have some sort of Super-Special Power, I'm not sure what the point of those characters is.


Final verdict: THIS BOOK IS AWESOME! Seriously, one of my favorite reads this year and my favorite MG series since I read Fablehaven. I like the characters, the plot and thought it had one of the most nuanced approaches to grief I've seen in a YA book. If it hadn't been for the horrible treatment of "geeks" I would have given it five stars.