The Shadow Throne: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Growing Bookworms Newsletter: February 25

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Books 1 and 2

Books: Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities, Book 2)
Author: Shannon Messenger
Pages: 512 and 576
Age Range: 8-12

I don't recall whose recommendation inspired me to try this series, but I picked up the first one on Kindle recently, and I was completely hooked. In fact, I have to admit that I was hooked in spite of myself.

The first book, Keeper of the Lost Cities, starts with a 12 year old girl who has never quite fit in who discovers that she is actually an elf. And not just any elf, but a special elf, for whom elves have been searching for years. I'm so over this "chosen one" premise, with all its echoes of Harry Potter. (There's even a special school.) And yet ... I was hooked anyway, from Kindle sample to low price purchase of book 1 to the higher priced purchase of book 2. These books have even helped me to exercise, because I want to keep reading. Here, I'll talk her mainly about the first book, and endeavor to avoid spoilers for those new to the series. 

Naturally, I have been asking myself "what makes these books work for me, despite certain thematic parallels?" I think it boils down to a combination of relatable protagonist and thorough world-building. Oh, I have a technical quibble or two about the world-building. But I still love it. Like this:

"She stood at the edge of a glassy river lined with impossibly tall trees, fanning out their wide emerald leaves among the puffy white clouds. Across the river, a row of crystal castles glittered in the sunlight in a way that would make Walt Disney want to throw rocks at his "Magic Kingdom." To her right, a golden path led into a sprawling city, where the elaborate domed buildings seemed to be built from brick-size jewels -- each structure a different color. Snowcapped mountains surrounded the lush valley, and the crisp, cool air smelled like cinnamon and chocolate and sunshine." (Chapter 3, Page 19, Book 1)

Who wouldn't want to go there?

The main character, Sophie, has been hearing other people's thoughts ever since an accident that occurred when she was five. She has a photographic memory, and is about to graduate from high school at twelve. She loves her family, but looks nothing like them. So when a strange boy with gorgeous eyes comes along and tells her that she's actually a long-lost elf, well, this isn't as much of a shock as it might have been. 

Sophie quickly learns that she will have to give up her human family and go to live with the elves (they live in hidden cities, where humans aren't allowed). A kidnapping attempt convinces her that this is necessary, even as it breaks her heart. Once in the elf city, she has trouble fitting in at school, and with her new foster parents. She is insecure and anxious, and desperately wants to understand her own background. Her combination of gifted and vulnerable is, I think, what made her get under my skin. 

The elf city is full of fabulous buildings, interesting customs, and delicious (vegetarian) foods. It's a brighter, more glittery world than that of, say, the Harry Potter books, even as danger lurks. I found myself wanting to spend more time there. There are also interesting social aspects (it's quite hierarchical, for instance), which I expect to develop more as the series progresses. 

The plot is filled with conspiracies and hidden clues, set against the mishaps of a girl raised by humans adapting to elf-hood. I did see a couple of the twists coming, but I also puzzled over the motivations of the people leaving Sophie clues, and wondered who Sophie should trust. The ending is quite suspenseful.

Several of the supporting characters are strong, though I would like to see a couple of Sophie's friends fleshed out a bit. Age-wise, I think this book is fine for elementary school kids who are strong readers (it is long). But there are enough hints at crushes and peer groups to keep it relevant for middle schoolers, too. 

The second book picks up right where the first one leaves off, and has the same feel. Here are a few snippets from the books, to give you an impression of Sophie's voice:

"That night Sophie dreamed the Keebler elves were holding her hostage until she perfected all their cookie recipes. Then she told them she liked Oreos better, and they tried to drown her in a giant vat of fudge. She woke in a cold sweat and decided sleep was overrated."(Chapter Six, Book 1)

"There were many, many questions racing through Sophie's mind as she scratched her neck where the furry collar was tickling it. But the most important one was probably, "Why am I dressed like a shaggy elephant?" (Chapter Sixteen, Page 146, Book 2) 

While I can see these books perhaps not working for jaded adults who have read a lot of fantasy, I think that kids will really enjoy them. Personally, I've found the Keeper of the Lost Cities series to be addictive, and I look forward to the next book. Recommended for fantasy fans, boys or girls, age 8 and up. 

Publisher: Aladdin (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: October 2012 and October 2013
Source of Book: Bought them both on Kindle

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© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook