Series: Keeper of the Lost Cities #9
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.
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.
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