Stellarlune by Shannon Messenger



Goodreads: Stellarlune
Series: Keeper of the Lost Cities #9
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2022


Keefe is on the run. But Sophie has to trust he is okay. She struck at the Neverseen, and now her allies fear retaliation. But Lady Gisela is planning something, too. Sophie just doesn’t know what.

Star Divider


I have had conflicting thoughts about the Keeper of the Lost Cities books, and book nine neatly encapsulates many of the things I both love and hate about the series. Initially, I fell in love with the series, and would loudly proclaim to one and all the reasons everyone should pick it up. However, the series kept growing. I think it was supposed to initially only be five books, then seven, then nine, then book 8.5 came out, and then this book, Stellarlune was finally supposed to wrap everything up. But guess what? It doesn’t! Book 10 (or 11, if you count book 8.5) is on the way!

As the series grew, Messenger started obviously making up new plot twists that didn’t really make sense, but made for good cliffhangers. Consequently, the overall plot was lost and the series ended up with three different villains who probably should be connected, but aren’t, really. Additionally, the character list became so long that Messenger tends to drop them for a few books at a time–even main characters like Sophie’s “best friend” Dex or boys who were set up to be potential crushes. Then, plot elements started to repeat themselves. Book 8.5 was an especial low for the series, as it is almost entirely just a compilation of already known facts from the series, presented as an “encyclopedia,” with a novella at the end that made it so that fans had to buy the book to keep up with the story–even though it felt like a blatant cash grab. And now, there is…whatever Stellarlune is. Which is a book heavily suffering from middle book syndrome, rehashing old plot points for at least 350 pages, before finally getting the plot moving again.

One of the most annoying features of the series is that the books range from 700-900 pages, but they could each easily be half the length, if any editor wanted to bother reining Messenger in. (But this is a bestselling series, so no need to bother trying for a good book when people will buy it anyway, yeah?) Much of the waste comes from Sophie discovering something, then reporting her discovery to everyone she knows, usually two or three times. While most books would cut to the chase with a phrase such as, “Sophie filled them in,” and then describing the listener’s reaction, Messenger loves to have Sophie actually tell everyone what happened with a blow-by-blow, every. single. time. Heck, she even had Sophie recap the last few books for another character in what was supposed to be a pep talk, but really just sounded like Sophie humble bragging. I don’t know why this is such a prominent feature of the books, but apparently what Messenger thinks fans want is the characters standing around talking for hundreds of pages about what happened and how they all feel about it, but never doing anything till the big finale.

For years, I was okay with how goofy this series is and loved to laugh at how bad the writing is, just because I like being in Sophie’s world and because I like the characters. Book 8.5 really soured me on the series, though, since now Messenger seems to be drawing out the books just because she can–and presumably because the publisher thinks they will sell no matter what. Book 8.5 ends with a repeat of a plot point that had already happened. Book 9 then opens with everyone discussing this event, then goes into a rehash of the Fitz-Sophie relationship drama, even though it should be clear by now that that ship has sailed. I honestly felt like throwing the book at a wall until the midway point, when things started to happen and the plot actually seemed to be relevant again. I did have to laugh, though, at how this book has characters suddenly and repeatedly pointing out how the protagonists do nothing but stand around and argue, leading them to be the world’s most ineffective defense team. I guess if you point out the main flaw in your plot, that makes it okay?

Sadly, the mystery and drama promised to fans never get realized. [Potential spoilers.] Caches with Forbidden Secrets are now in play, and they are supposed to hold memories so terrible, they could shatter a person’s mind. They don’t. And it is strange even Messenger does not seem to realize that, since Sophie is going around collecting Forbidden Secrets like Pokemon cards and does not seem the least bit worried or upset by them. If a teenager can open the caches, why is the Council so intent on insisting they are dangerous? More dangerous truths were revealed about Elven actions in previous books when the big showdown with the Neverseen was not even supposed to be imminent. I also am confused about the new role of caches here, as I thought the whole point was that guilt could shatter an Elven mind, so they had to hide their terrible deeds done in the name of leadership. But the memories here are typically not anything that the holders should feel that guilty about–often just stuff they saw that made them sad. And, as the book suddenly seems to have realized, but doesn’t know how to address–erasing memories of important matters of state is strikingly ridiculous when government leaders need to know what happened in the past! [End spoilers.]

If you can get to the midway point, the plot is delightful, once more. Readers finally get the Sophie-Keefe confrontation they have all been waiting for. And then lots of dramatic stuff happens so Messenger can end on one of her trademark cliffhangers. I truly did enjoy this half of the book! I just dearly wish that the editor had reduced the page count by half. Or, even more importantly, cut the first 350 pages so Messenger could have actually ended this series.

Because it’s time to let go. Keeper of the Lost Cities was a great series. But, like any thing that becomes successful, it lost its way when the creators wanted to keep it going and the original plot had to be trashed just to keep the thing alive. Now it’s staggering onward, but it’s not particularly pretty to watch. And it’s not fair to fans to milk them each year for cash by publishing a 700-page book in which almost nothing happens.

3 Stars

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Unlocked by Shannon Messenger



Goodreads: Unlocked
Series: Keeper of the Lost Cities 8.5
Source: Purchased
Published: 2020


The first 500 pages of the book contain encylopedic matter about the characters, lands, animals, and vegetation of the Lost Cities, as well as some other additional content. The novella at the end follows Keefe as he wakes up trying to determine his mother’s legacy for him, and serves as a bridge from book 8 to book 9.

Star Divider


I wanted to love this book because I have been an enthusiastic (if not obsessed) fan ever since I read the first Keeper of the Lost Cities books. I have introduced a number of my friends to my series, and I love being able to talk over the latest installments, to argue Keefe vs. Fitz, and to guess what the next book will bring. But even I have to recognize that the series has been getting ridiculously unwieldy, in a way that some more cynical readers might even view as a blatant cash grab. Readers didn’t need book 8.5. They needed book 9 so this bloated series can finally end. And then maybe we can get a spinoff series instead of the repetitive story that never ends.

Part of my dissatisfaction with book 8.5 is how the book was marketed as a sort of must-have special edition for fans, the vague wording implying that there would be new bonus materials included. If that was not enough to lure them in, however, the marketing team clearly explained that the book also contains a novella that links books 8 and 9, so readers of the series actually have to buy this book if they want to know what is happening. Messenger famously ends every book with a dramatic cliffhanger, so of course readers would want to grab this latest installment. Unfortunately, it turns out that the novella is the one part of this volume worth having, even for hardcore fans, so releasing a 700-page volume and asking fans to hand over twenty dollars seems a little rude.

The first 150 pages of this volume are allegedly “registry files” for each of the main characters. For those who do not know, elves in the Lost Cities wear trackers around their necks so the Council always knows where they are. A registry file implies a list of times and locations, but what Messenger writes is actually a recap of the entire series so far, along with completely inappropriate musings (from adult Council members!) on things like the love lives of tweens and teens. It’s highly unofficial and a little disturbing. Not to mention boring. No one wants to start off their new book in a series with 150 pages of recap!

The rest of the bonus material is not much better. A lot of it is encyclopedia-type entries on everything from plants and animal life in the Lost Cities to lists of locations and of faculty members at Foxfire. There are lots of charts explaining what color jewels and what animal pendants everyone wears. Unfortunately, none of this information is new. It is all available in the previous eight volumes.

New content mostly includes a few personality quizzes, an Iggy coloring pages, some recipes, and some full-color portraits. A section from Keefe’s memory book with his scribblings about his feelings for Sophie will delight fans of that particular ship. But was all this worth paying for the full cover price? I don’t think so.

The novella itself is fine. It’s basically a standard Messenger plot with Keefe and Sophie worrying about things they can’t really control, Sophie going on a mission, the characters facing a dramatic climax, and then the standard cliffhanger ending. Sadly, however, this is all getting redundant, especially the “twist” ending, which is more upsetting than shocking because it is such a spectacularly bad idea. Messenger claims she had to do it this way because she needed to write Keefe’s POV, but his POV does not sound much different than Sophie’s, and I think she could have easily integrated this little interlude into book nine.

So the final verdict? This book is basically an encyclopedia of the Lost Cities that someone had the brilliant idea to attach to part of the series in the middle, instead of publishing it separately after book nine, because now fans have to buy it if they want keep up with the story. If they had published the encyclopedia on its own…well, no one needs to pay twenty dollars for information that’s already available in the other books, do they?

I have loved the Keeper of the Lost Cities series for years. But even good things have to end–especially if they want to remain good things. Publishing a book 8.5 instead of just ending the series already doesn’t really respect the fans and the time and love they have invested in Sophie’s journey. I don’t understand why Messenger doesn’t just wrap up this series and start another one in the same world. That way the story could stay somewhat intact, fans are happy that new content is still coming, and no one feels like they’re being milked for cash for a book that isn’t worth it.

2 star review

Legacy by Shannon Messenger (Potential Spoilers)

Legacy Keeper of the Lost Cities Cover


Goodreads: Legacy
Series: Keeper of the Lost Cities #8
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2019


Sophie needs to know who her biological parents are.  Without that knowledge, her life is about to be over.  At least, her dating life is.  But old enemies are hatching new plans, and Sophie will have to decide what is more important: her crush or the fate of her world.

Star Divider


Minor spoilers ahead!

Legacy continues, well, the legacy of the Keeper of the Lost Cities series by providing readers with plenty of scenes depicting Sophie and her friends hanging out and discussing crushes, but leaving all  the action for the final 200 pages of an 800-page book.  It really is somewhat laughable that the books keep getting bigger while the plot hardly ever seems to advance, but Shannon Messenger knows what the people really want: more Team Fitz vs. Team Keefe drama.  And that is what she delivers in lieu of basically anything else.  The books may be oddly structured, but they are constant bestsellers, so who can to say the formula does not work?

The bulk of Legacy is Sophie wondering if she’s willing to destroy the lives of her biological parents in order to date the guy she wants. Obviously, if she has to ask herself this, she has feelings for the wrong guy, but the book only vaguely explores the implications of this through Ro, who is suddenly very interested in Sophie’s love life for no particular reason other than that it provides some humor to the book.  Unsurprisingly, the book ultimately glosses over the issue of how horrible it is for Sophie even to consider having her biological parents face possible torture and death at the hands of her enemies, all because she has hormones–the books seldom engage with the ethical questions they raise.  Arguably, the series would be deeper and richer if it did dare to explore these questions, but it cannot be denied that most fans must be present for the characters and their banter, not questions of responsibility and guilt, since the books usually meander 4/5 of the way through with little else than the characters having discussions with each other.

Legacy is mainly notable in that Messenger seems to have realized finally that she has neglected a large number of her characters for a considerable amount of time.  One of the plot points forces Sophie to hang out with these other characters, among them her “best friend” Dex, who was unceremoniously dropped from the series once he was no longer a viable love interest for Sophie.  At the same time as the book attempts to rein in its unwieldy cast, however, new players are added, ensuring that the books will never manage to give them all the screen time they deserve.  Among the new characters being shoehorned in are the Council, who are supposed to be playing a larger supportive role.  This results in the twelve hanging out with Sophie all the time–twelve people crammed into her room for no good reason!  And, even as they are jammed into the plot, Fitz, a key player for Sophie’s affections, manages to disappear almost entirely from the book.  It’s all very entertaining, from a writing perspective.

Legacy is arguably not a very well-structured book.  It is, however, a book that caters to fans and their desire to spend more time with Sophie and her friends and in exploring Sophie’s world.  It also finally amps up the romance for all those who have been waiting for Sophie to pick a boy.  Those who have stuck with the series through all the books so far will likely not be disappointed.

4 stars

Why Keeper of the Lost Cities is Perfect for Fans of Harry Potter

Keeper of the Lost Cities Perfect for Harry Potter Fans

Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities series is one of my favorite middle-grade fantasy series.  Compulsively readable, it has inspired me to ship Team Keefe and raised some thought-provoking questions I still think about with each new installment.  But, even though the books are bestsellers, not everyone has jumped on the Keeper bandwagon.  So, if you are not sure the series is for you, here are some reasons you should check it out, especially if you are a fan of Harry Potter.

smaller star divider

An Immersive Fantasy World

The Keeper of the Lost Cities series follows Sophie Foster as she discovers that she is secretly an elf, who must return to the land of Eternalia to learn to use her abilities.  Elves can wield different types of magic (depending on what ability, if any, they are born with), and may, if they manifest, become a Telepath, an Empath, a Polyglot, a Pyrokinetic and so forth.  The different types of abilities, as well as the tension caused by the classism that results, create a world that is wondrous and magical, but that also possesses depth.  Furthermore, readers get to explore various breath-taking setting such as Sophie’s prestigious school, the animal sanctuary where she lives with her guardians, her best friends’ extensive crystal palace, and more.  Every scene seems to be dripping with magic and sparkles!

smaller star divider

An Expanding Universe

Sophie’s early days in the magical world of  Eternalia make it seem like Sophie’s adventures will largely take place in her school.  However, as the series progresses, the world expands and readers learn more about the (sometimes uneasy) relationships the elves have with other creatures such as the dwarves, trolls, goblins, etc.  Sophie explores not only distant (and occasionally secret) areas of the elven lands but also the lands of some of the other races.  As the world expands, Sophie uncovers more disturbing political truths about her new home.

smaller star divider

A Series that Matures over Time

Sophie begins the series as a twelve-year-old girl.  However, by book seven, she is fifteen.  Though her love of alicorns and stuffed animals remains, she does start to have more maturing relationships (read: romance and growing concerns with the elven practice of matchmaking), as well as darker adventures.  It is a series that can grow along with readers.