I stumbled across Keeper of the Lost Cities(KotLC) at my local library a few years back and felt compelled to pick it up. I quickly fell in love with a middle grade(ages 10-14) series that most definitely was not targeting people my age.
It got to the point where this was the only series I'd check on frequently to see if the next book was out and that I'd bump to the front of my reading list. (I'm rather obsessive about reading the books on my list in the order I add them, though this year I've been working on that)
For the most part I've kept my favorite to myself. Until this year that is. I've never been ashamed to be a KotLC fan, but no one I knew had read it and it's hard to convince my friends and family that they should read this children's book!!! I sound silly saying it, I know I do. But this year my sister started reading them and a friend told me I got to nominate a book for her challenge, and this is what I chose. Now having two converts, I've been determined to inform people of this awesome series.
Besides my random saying, "You should read this" I've never had a chance to really break down why I love KotLC. After reading books 4 and 5 this year, I decided to finally take on the challenge of pitching one of my favorite series to an audience of adults.
So this is going to be a little different than my normal Angry Book Blogger review. For one thing, I've never done an ABB review on a book that wasn't the first in its series. It's also really challenging to fully convey everything I love about later books without getting into spoilers. I'm relishing the challenge though.
Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She’s a Telepath—someone who hears the thoughts of everyone around her. It’s a talent she’s never known how to explain.
Everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there’s a place she does belong, and that staying with her family will place 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 anything she has ever known.
Sophie has new rules to learn and new skills to master, and not everyone is thrilled that she has come “home.”
There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory—secrets about who she really is and why she was hidden among humans—that other people desperately want. Would even kill for.
KotLC is a MG urban fantasy series that is sometimes compared to Harry Potter. While that is probably the "best" series to connect it to, I'm always reluctant to say that because it's also very different.
What's the same is that the story revolves around a young "human" who lives in our ordinary world until one day she finds out she's not normal, or even human, she's then whisked away to the Lost Cities of the elves where she attends the school and is destined to take down the evil that threatens the whole world.
Keeper is not nearly as dark as HP, and everything from the characters, to the world, to the family's, to the powers is radically different. I do feel like this series has the potential to be the series for this generations MG audience that HP was for mine. I actually missed the HP boat though and didn't read it until I was 20, so I'm just going off of what I've heard from people my age.
By this point I'm sure those of you familiar with my review series are going, "Kristen, where's all of the memes? I only read these things for the memes."
There are so many things I love about this series: the world-building, the characters, the humor, the plot, etc. But I wanted to focus on some of the deeper elements for Lodestar.
Sophie Foster is back in the Lost Cities--but the Lost Cities have changed. The threat of war hangs heavy over her glittering world, and the Neverseen are wreaking havoc.
The lines between friend and enemy have blurred, and Sophie is unsure whom to trust. But when she's warned that the people she loves most will be the next victims, she knows she has to act.
A mysterious symbol could be the key--if only she knew how to translate it. And each new clue reveals how far the villains dark schemes spread. The Black Swan aren't the only ones who have plans. The Neverseen have their own Initiative, and if Sophie doesn't stop it, they might finally have the ultimate means to control her.
Things are heating up for Sophie and her bad of merry men. Keefe's obsession with smashing Sophie's name together with every character finally elicited an audible laugh from me in this book when he added "Dophie" to the list.
I'm also a fan of lame puns and corny jokes. And I had to try and explain to my husband at one point why I was laughing. It goes to show I've got a funny sense of humor, because I read it to him and he was like o_0 I went, "You would've had to been there, or rather read it." This bit from Keefe is what had me going.
What really got me with Lodestar was the amount of deep content. And that's what I'll be focusing on today.
The first beast Lodestar tackles is verbal and emotional abuse. One of the characters recalls a memory that is a bit dark and though he doesn't really understand it, he's upset by it. He's talking with Sophie once she finds out and is feeling low because he didn't stand up for himself or demand answers.
I think so many people have been there were they look back at something and are like, "What kind of loser sits by and watches that happen, or allows this, or or or." We've been there! We've felt like heels because there was something we didn't see, didn't question, didn't stop, and when we didn't stand up for ourselves or someone else it feels like crap. This character is there! They're going through that.
And his friend says, "It's not your fault." And tackles what it means to be abused and how it effects our ability to fight back, to stand up for ourselves, and any number of things.
Lodestar tackles consent and treating people like people and not objects. In a nice, MG appropriate way too. A young character of about 10 is trying to be all suave and goes to slip his arm around a girl's waist and his father stops him.
So many times I see books that have male characters acting inappropriately towards women and it's not called out. I took issue with this in my first Angry Book Blogger review. When the character doesn't check themselves, and no one else says, "no, that's not okay" a reader is going to get the impression that certain behavior IS okay. Especially when we're talking about people who haven't matured enough to know better. Yes, I can read a book and say, "that's not right." but a young and impressionable 12 year old boy is another matter.
It goes both ways, of course. But the point stands and I love that Messenger included this part because it addressed that it's not okay to touch girls(or women) without permission and it did so in a way that's easy for a young reader to understand and in an appropriate example that fit smoothly into the story without feeling forced.
Discrimination and prejudice is also a big part of Lodestar, and even of the whole series. The elves would say they are better than humans, yet they still suffer from some of humanity's worst faults. Messenger takes a different twist on discrimination as we experience it. People aren't discriminated against because of their gender, skin color, or wealth. Instead there are things the elves of Keeper have that I would say are fairly unique.
I mean, wow, just wow. Because I know many people have been in Dex's shoes where for one reason or another they are outsiders. They're alone and they do eat lunch somewhere that they feel safe. And what really made this scene great is a few of the popular kids go on to say that they're sorry they were so wrapped up in themselves that they couldn't see when someone was alone.
I can't begin to imagine what Dex's family faced with his parents being ruled a bad match. I do love how well his parents have taken the disgust of their society, though. They've embraced that people don't like them and try to be even kookier in public just to see people get all ruffled about it. I love the attitude of finding some humor in it.
To go a step further with the discrimination, this society believes that children become less powerful--and by extent important--with each child born after the first. So many elves only have 1 or 2 children so they're not having imperfect children. Elves believe that discrimination against children who are not the firstborn.
And eve stronger is the discrimination against multiples(twins, triplets, etc.). And this is another way that Dex's family has come under fire. Dex has a set of triplets as younger siblings and this book we see his mother open up about how she felt.
I think parents everywhere can connect with this one. I remember when I brought my oldest to the pediatrician, I got lots of sideways remarks about how amazed the doctor and nurses were that she was a "normal" baby because I'd delivered her at home. I ended up switching to a new pediatrician after several visits of hearing what a shocker it was that she was whatever.
And I think most parents, if not all, have come across someone somewhere who feels the need to remark on their children. So though I don't have experience with Mrs. Dizznee's situation, I did very much connect with her frustration that no one could just see her babies as children who were amazing.
This part of the story hit home for me. I like to keep my past struggles in the past, safely tucked away where people can't judge how I handled them. But I've recently come to the decision that I want to share, because I want to help people and encourage them.
And that's why this segment of Lodestar hit home. Different situation from the twins of course, but I've severed ties with my father after a history of emotional manipulation and abuse. My family has taken a lot of heat for cutting relations with a man who's both a psychopath and has narcissistic personality disorder. People say that you should stay connected to parents because they're parents. We HAVE to respect them we HAVE to keep them in our lives.
I believe this is a harmful viewpoint. Parents should protect their children, they should support them. It doesn't matter if you share DNA with someone, a relationship that is unhealthy is just that. No one should stay in an unhealthy relationship. It is harmful for the world to insist that people just deal with something because "family."
I imagine that in this story, the parents will change and make some good choices and earn their kids back. But that's not always the case and for addressing a subject that desperately needs influential, healthy recognition, I commend Shannon Messenger.
I needed to see this. Lots of people who are still stuck in abusive relationships need this. We need to know that we are strong, and important, and smart, and worth it. It doesn't matter the lies the manipulative/abusive parent tells themselves, because they are lies.
My friend Smeagol is going to help me out with a series of pictures to explain! I think most people know the story of Gollum/Smeagol, but I'll try to cap on the important things and hope this makes sense to everyone.
Smeagol's life was idyllic until he comes in contact with a ring that manipulates him into believing that it is the most important thing in the world. It's even worth killing for.
Gollum loses everything. His health, his home, his friends, his happiness, and his ability to do anything without the ring. In essence his life now orbits around the ring.
He then develops a split-personality where one side is almost an extension of the manipulative power in his life. The little voice in his head that says he's not worth it, that he doesn't matter, and no one cares about him except the abuser. Manipulation makes Gollum feel like less and that he needs the abuser in his life.
It is VERY hard to break from an abusive situation and take a step back from the person who's manipulating you. You have to convince yourself that the lies are lies, that you're not crazy, and that you ARE worth more.
Because in the end, the person who is abusing/manipulating you will drag you down. They will kill you slowly, on the inside. They'll drain your will to fight, your sense of self, and your feeling of self-worth.
Even if they're going down, they're bringing you with them. Adding in another LOTR character. Wormtongue poisons the mind of those around him with his words. He makes it so he's controlling the king and the king can't function without him.
It's not easy to break from a relation where your emotions have been toyed with. Verbal and emotional abusers do not leave physical traces of abuse and they break down your mind. They make you think you're crazy and that it's not manipulation. It's a sick lie that all too often people can't escape from.
That's why we need more scenes like this. Because people need to know that they're not crazy, that it's okay to walk away. To people out their trapped in a situation like this, YOU deserve to be free. You are worth it.
Back to Lodestar, I love that the Song twins are healing and becoming people who don't need someone just because "they're family". I love that Sophie stood up for her friends and delivered the best lines of the series. And I love that Shannon Messenger has used her ability to impact so many people in a positive way.
This isn't a normal review. But I didn't want to detract from the key things here.
I can truly recommend Keeper of the Lost Cities for anyone of any age. These books are funny, interesting, gripping, and full of great dialogue. The world is amazing, the characters are a joy to read, and the plot never fails to impress. And more than all of that, Shannon just has this talent words can't express. The pieces I've shared here may get lost on a younger audience, but I believe anyone(young or old) who's gone through some of these things or has someone close to them who's faced a struggle that relates will love finding the deeper side to these books.