Keeper of the Lost Cities Raises Some Interesting Questions

If you have read our blog in the past year,  you probably know that I am obsessed with Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities series.  It follows twelve-year-old Sophie Foster as she discovers her heritage as an elf, develops her telepathic abilities at a magical school, and fights to learn how she is linked to a mysterious rebel group known as the Black Swan.  Full of non-stop action, fabulous cities, and plenty of humor, the series also raises some intriguing questions about an elven society meant to be perfect.

Should individuals give up privacy for safety?

All elves wear tracking devices around their necks.  No one really explains why, especially as elves supposedly rarely break the law and surveillance should therefore be unnecessary.  I suppose if one’s child did not arrive home on time, one could ask for their location to be tracked, but wearing the equivalent of a dog collar hardly seems like it should be required in a world where death almost never occurs.  Even more interesting, however, is that Sophie welcomes her tracking device and feels safer with it.  Not once does she or anyone else question why the government needs to track everyone.  They seem to believe entirely in the integrity of their government.  And perhaps they assume people with nothing to hide have no reason to protest being tracked?  The book really does not dwell on these questions, so it is unclear if the book is truly suggesting that tracking is a positive good or if this is simply a world-building element meant to illustrate how a crimeless society would function.

Would equal incomes mean an equal society?

All elves begin at birth with enough money to last their entire lifetimes (even though no one has yet died of old age) and all elves therefore are able to live in mansions built of crystal with anything from swimming pool-sized baths to aquarium-lined walls.  However, their world is talent-based, so individuals with no special talent (telepathy, phasing, inflicting, etc.) have to wear working-class clothes and work in specially-built working-class cities.  And the nobility (recognizable by their capes) look down on them.  The books seems to suggest that people will always find a way to have the few rule over the many.

What is guilt and how does it affect people?

Supposedly elves are very sensitive to guilt and go mad when they do something wrong, so this is why crime rarely happens.  And  yet there are rebels kidnapping children, creating fires, etc.  And the government routinely exiles people including children and does things like commit memory breaks to read the minds of lawbreakers and find out their secrets.  Memory breaks cause people to go mad.  Apparently elves equate  “legal” or “sanctioned by the government for the safety of society” as “morally right” and so can do terrible things if assigned those actions by their council.  So my sense here is that “guilt” is relative.  If an elf can justify their actions or perceive a wrongdoing as minor, their minds are safe (just as humans silence their consciences with justifications for their behavior).  Again, the books do not really go into details here to ferret out why elves feel they ought to rebel against the government sometimes but other times see the government as defining moral law.  But there is much to think about here in regards to the relationship of the individual to the government and civil disobedience.

How does a “perfect” people see themselves in relation to others?

One of the most obnoxious things about the elves is that they see themselves as perfect because nonviolent and so they look down on other species, including the goblins that serve as their bodyguards.  They even refuse to help dying  humans because humans simply are not worth anything to them.  In other words, this is yet another way elf utopia has failed to eradicate problems such as pride and the prejudice that results from it.

Have you read Keeper of the Lost Cities?  How do you think Messenger handles these questions?


18 thoughts on “Keeper of the Lost Cities Raises Some Interesting Questions

  1. shelfishforbooks says:

    I love this book series so much!! And these are some really interesting questions! On the surface the elves’ society seems so perfect, but in reality it’s actually not that picturesque. Lovely discussion post ❤️ Whose your favourite character in the series? Have you read all the books? I’ve only read up to Lodestar myself, and still have to read Nightfall. The last book – called Flashback – is being released soon I think! Which is SUPER EXCITING!


    • Krysta says:

      It’s soo difficult to pick a favorite character! I might have to go with Dex or Keefe. I admire how normal and loyal Dex is. But I’m also impressed by how much Keefe has gone through and how he’s really not a bad kid, despite his reputation.

      I have read all the book so far! I thought Nightfall was a little weak, to be honest, the weakest of the series. But I’m hoping Flashback will be amazing!

      Liked by 1 person

      • shelfishforbooks says:

        I really like Keefe too! And Dex -I kinda wish they could all be with who they like because I love them all so much, but that wouldn’t really work?! 😁 Personally, I do like team foster-Keefe the best – but I have a feeling that the author has Sophie and Fitz in mind


  2. Bookishly Bree♡ says:


    This was a nice discussion post, and you did ask good questions. I think that the council wants everyone to think everything is okay, make everyone calm, when really it’s not all that perfect.
    Are you excited for Flashback???! I am. Do you get Shannon Messenger’s email newsletter? I do. Apparently, Flashback was SUPPOSED to be the last book but she says that she just couldn’t end it there so now she has it scheduled to have TWO MORE BOOKS AFTER FLASHBACK. I’m too excited…


    • Krysta says:

      I do find it odd no one seems to discuss this series since it’s a bestseller and all!

      Yes, I think that’s true! The council doens’t know how to admit that imperfection can exist and that’s okay!

      I am excited for Flashback!! But I had no idea there was a newsletter. I…don’t know how I feel about two more books I can already see the series straining from where Messenger changed it from five to seven books. Five to nine means there’s a lot of filler and moseying around. It’s already weird Prentice is a problem that needs seven books to be resolved. Throwing in more plot twists to keep things going on forever may not be ideal.

      But we’ll see. I love the series a lot, so hopefully two more books is just a great opportunity to spend more time in Sophie’s world!


  3. Michael J. Miller says:

    The implied social commentary sounds incredible here. Like, how do you introduce the topic of constant and total government surveillance (especially in 2018) and not draw some sort of point with it?? Unless, as you say/do above, the point is either world-building or to allow the reader to speculate on these issues themselves. I’m always interested in books addressing these sorts of social issues or playing with these kind of themes.


    • Krysta says:

      I keep waiting for the books to address the government surveillance issue. Six books later, nothing! It’s disappointing Messenger doesn’t engage much with the questions her books raise, but there’s still a lot to consider.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael J. Miller says:

        Do you think then, the books are meant to raise the questions for the reader to ponder or do the questions just rise, incidentally, from the plot? I know our experience of a text will always supersede the author’s vision, for better or worse, because it’s how we experience it and art is subjective. But in a situation like this I can’t help wondering – are the larger social issues an accidental connection or something a reader’s meant to ponder?


        • Krysta says:

          I’ve been asking myself this question for the last six books. And I’m starting to think that, if we’ve been through six books, and all we ever see is things like Sophie feeling relief she’s being tracked by what is essentially a dog collar, then maybe the author doesn’t really intend to explore the nuances raised…. I haven’t read book seven yet, but it was originally supposed to be the last, so I doubt it’s suddenly full of thoughtful dialogue about these issues.

          There is something to be said for just raising the issues and letting them speak for themselves, but I do feel that authors who are intentionally raising issues for thought usually provide more than one perspective on the issue. So I would expect Sophie to love her tracking device, but to see another character eventually go, “Hey, wait. The council is making so bad decisions and they have all this power over us. They can literally break our minds if they get mad at us! Maybe I don’t want them tracking me….” But, no. It doesn’t happen.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Michael J. Miller says:

            Yeah, that makes sense. And, at six books, they’ve had PLENTY of time to introduce various perspectives. Also, I think the leave-it-for-readers-to-puzzle-out-on-their-own thing works better in a one-off. To have six books with no commentary at all doesn’t seem to suggest the author has any higher purpose outside of the plot (or maybe (weirdly?) praising government tracking).


            • Krysta says:

              Yeah, at this point the series seems to be going on indefinitely with no real purpose. It’s actually pretty interesting in that none of the books has a clearly defined plot, which is evident from the hilariously vague plots they put on the covers. They’re all pretty much, “People are keeping secrets. Sophie is in danger.” XD I think the author just likes spending time in the world she’s created and maybe there’s not much more purpose to the series than that.

              Liked by 1 person

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