Marvelous Middle Grade: Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
I already knew I loved Shannon Messenger’s writing style after snagging a copy of her 2013 YA release Let the Sky Fall at a BEA party, and plowing through it on the plane ride home. I was completely in love with the world and the characters she created. So when we were sent a copy of her middle grade fantasy adventure story, Keeper of the Lost Cities, I quickly called dibs on it. (I wish I could say I was a lady about it, but I’m pretty sure I snarled “That book is MINE, back OFF,” grabbed it, and ran away, glancing over my shoulder for book-thieving pursuers). I’m so glad I did. Turns out Messenger can sell me on just about any world she creates.
Keeper of the Lost Cities is a daring, imaginative story set in an exciting magical world with a whip-smart, lovable heroine and a fantastic supporting crew of friends, enemies, and bumbling adults.
Sophie is a child prodigy—a twelve year old high school senior with a mostly uncomfortable ability to read minds. The first mind she can’t read belongs to a strange boy who approaches her in a museum with a world-bending piece of information. Sophie doesn’t belong to the human world, she belongs in his world—a place filled with strange creatures, lost cities, and magic. A world for elves.
Why Keeper of the Lost Cities is a Must-Read for Your Middle Grade Shelf:
Like J.K. Rowling, Messenger takes familiar fantasy elements—mythological creatures, supernatural powers, secret cities—and weaves them into an original, rich and fully functional magical world that co-exists with the human world in a believable way.
The hidden fairy cities Sophie visits in her new life are fleshed out beautifully, with vibrant colors and materials, and they are populated with an array of bizarre mythical creatures, and even some extinct ones—hello T-Rex!
The rules of the world are an interesting mix of science and magic (but hey, all magic is just as yet undiscovered science, right?). The elves travel by light, and can make themselves vanish, inflict pain mentally, read minds, and a whole host of other X-Men style powers.
Of course there is a school where elven kids go to train in these specialized subjects, and they usually manifest one power over the others while studying. Magical schools will NEVER be over, as long as they’re fresh and fun, and Foxfire Academy is both. If I couldn’t get into Hogwarts, Foxfire would totally be my safety school, and that’s a huge compliment (there are a TON of fictional magical schools out there).
Fabulous cast of characters
Well done mystery
There are a small group of middle grade books are completely age-proof, despite their young protagonists. Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander series come to mind. I would have loved these books as a fifth grader or a twenty-five year old. They are just SO much fun to read. You look forward to curling up with them, gleefully diving into an unfamiliar world where the problems are as small as “does this boy like me back?” and as big as “can I wield my magical powers to save my bestie from certain death?”
Keeper of the Lost Cities definitely has a place in this small age-proof pack. I couldn’t stop thinking about Sophie’s story, and I couldn’t wait to dive back in when I was forced to take a break (life….why’s it gotta intrude when I’m getting my fantasy world on?). This is a middle grade I expect to see in the hands of many grownups.
**Side note—if you’re worried about reading a middle grade book in public, do what I do, assume you’re selling the bejeezus out of the book. Personally, when I see a grownup flagrantly reading a middle grade book covered with brightly-colored cartoon characters on the subway/park bench/beach, I think “Wow, you are really into that middle-grade book. You didn’t read it in a closet or put it on your Nook. You’re showing it OFF. I need to check that out asap.” Keeper deserves to be proudly shown off.
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