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Literature / Keeper of the Lost Cities

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Keeper of the Lost Cities is an award-winning book series by Shannon Messenger aimed at children ages 8-12. However, it has also attracted hundreds of teen and young adult readers due to its riveting plot, intricate themes, and death-defying cliffhangers.

Sophie Foster is an elf, but she’s lived with humans her whole life. When a mysterious boy shows her the world she belongs in, she struggles to fit into a new school, a new home, even new parents. But darker plots are brewing, and Sophie and her friends find themselves at the crux of an inter-speciesial war and are drawn into yet another world of rebels and resistance groups, ogres and gnomes. Will Sophie be able to bring peace back to the Lost Cities?

There are currently nine books in the series, with the ninth being half novella half series guide:


  1. Keeper of the Lost Cities
  2. Exile
  3. Everblaze
  4. Neverseen
  5. Lodestar
  6. Nightfall
  7. Flashback
  8. Legacy
  9. Unlocked

Unknown title for the tenth book.

Tropes include:

  • The Ace: Fitz, the “Wonder Boy”. He’s the best at everything, from telepathy to splotching. Until Sophie shows up.
  • Action Mom: Della Vacker. In Neverseen, she uses her Vanishing ability to stow away to join the Black Swan, where she naturally kicks ass.
  • Alicorn: Two:
    • Silveny
    • Greyfell
  • Almost Kiss: Sophie and Fitz almost kiss at the end of Book 5, but Keefe interrupts them.
  • Amicable Exes:
    • Alden and Alina are technically this, though the latter tried to break up the former's wedding.
    • Averted with Ro and Cadael.
  • Angst Coma: Elven minds break from guilt, sometimes inducing a death-like coma.
  • Anime Chinese Girl: Linh Song and her brother Tam are actually described as “like they stepped out of an anime”.
  • Archnemesis Dad: Keefe and his dad, Lord Cassius. Lord Cassius was a cold, unfeeling father - could almost be classified as abusive - and he and Keefe never got along very well. One memorable moment is when Lord Cassius discovered that Keefe had been drawing in his school notebook, and in his anger, he ripped all the drawings to shreds.
    • Tam and his father. Tam expresses great bitterness toward his father and obviously hated him when they still lived together.
    Tam: I melted down the chain [of my registry pendant] after I ripped off the crystal and threw it in my father’s face. Now if I ever face him again, he’ll see exactly how little I miss living in his glittering prison.
  • Aerith and Bob: Justified. Sophie was born to a human family and given a human name as a result.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Sophie references this trope in an attempt to make Keefe feel better in Book 4.
  • Amnesiacs are Innocent: The Council decides they cannot punish Alvar for his involvement with the Neverseen because all his memories have been wiped.
  • Author Tract: It starts becoming this sometime around the vegetarian dinosaurs. And anytime the elves get outraged at how barbaric, backward and weak humans are.
  • Badass Adorable: Sophie. Also, Dex, who explodes things on a daily basis.
  • Battle Amongst the Flames: In Neverseen, the climactic battle takes place literally inside a ring of fire.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The Elves are all supremely beautiful and are presented as the most peaceful and intelligent of the species, while the ogres who are described are far from beautiful, looking like hairless gorillas, are stereotypically uncivilized and evil, to the point that the heroine flooding their capital and killing many of them, with no distinction to whether or not their are innocent children, is treated as a heroic act. All other species, who are much less beautiful than them are vassals to them, to the elves have them defend their cities, grow their crops and built their house for them.
  • Big Bad: The Neverseen is a rebel group who delights in killing humans, killing gnomes, and killing traitors.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Even though they’re twins, Tam is extremely protective of his sister, Linh.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Tam and Linh.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Technically a Day School of Horrors, Exillium is a school for the “hopeless cases”. The food is horrible, the medical care is subpar, and the teachers hate their job. The students aren’t allowed to speak to each other or even give out their names, and they have to hide their faces behind masks. Their “ticket” to the next day’s class is a bead that gives you an electrical shock when you touch it. This all changes after a few choice words from Sophie to Councillor Terik.
  • Brain Bleach: When Sophie sees Silveny and Greyfell having sex. Ewwwwwww...
  • Bystander Syndrome: The Council (and the elves in general). Because of their indefinite lifespans, the elves ignore addressing problems that may cause trouble. Such as all the gnomes dying.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When Sophie interrogates Gethen in Lumenaria, there is an unobtainable sword in his cell signifying that prisoners can't do anything. When Fintan, Brant, Gethen, and Alvar destroy the castle with outward channelling, it breaks free and Gethen uses it to kill Mr Forkle.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Lots of these, including Sophie's old family, who get kidnapped by the Neverseen and Marella, who turns out to be a Pyrokinetic.
  • Child Prodigy: Sophie, who also has a Photographic Memory, got into Yale at age twelve.
    • Keefe is the only elf we know of who skipped a level at Foxfire, because of his Photographic Memory, which also allows him to skip classes without failing his exams.
  • The Chosen One: Sophie, the one and only “Project Moonlark”. Subverted because she was literally genetically engineered for this purpose while the usual recipients of this trope usually are because of a prophecy or supernatural ancestry.
  • Cry into Chest: Sophie cries into Fitz’s shoulder in Book 1. Keefe cries into Sophie’s shoulder in Book 4.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Sophie and Dex were kidnapped, tortured, and burned by the Neverseen for information about the Black Swan - information that they didn’t have. Remember, these kids were thirteen.
  • Conflicting Loyalty:
    • Keefe feels that he was “born” to be with the Neverseen, but he doesn’t necessarily want to follow his mother. It’s...complicated.
    • Jolie worked undercover for the Black Swan by infiltrating the Neverseen, but after she fell in love with Brant, who was with the Neverseen, she felt her loyalties shifting.
  • Covert Distress Code: “Swan song” is the Black Swan’s code word for a last resort.
  • Cute Clumsy Girl: the trope is taken to its full extent in the First Book, where Sophie is described as being extremely clumsy and uncoordinated - she's unable to walk on short heels - even by human standards and is a total klutz by Elvin standards. As usual with this trope, it is only used in non-critical settings as comic relief or a way to make her seem relatable or endearing to other characters, and Sophie becomes conveniently capable whenever she has to do something crucial, even under the effects of stress. This is even completely forgotten in the subsequent books, when Sophie turns out to be a natural at throwing goblin stars, a discipline that asks a lot of coordination and she never practiced before, outmatching all of her friends, who have superhuman coordination.
  • Darker and Edgier: Everything starts going downhill once the ogres get involved.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Keefe Sencen.
    • Tam Song and Mr Forkle.
    Tam: I can already tell [the trees’ shadowvapor reading]’ll be off the charts, since, y’know, the trees are dying.
    Mr. Forkle: That is what one would expect from a plague.
    • Fintan.
    Oralie: A life serving the ogres is no life at all!
    Fintan: Funny, I thought death from disease was far less of a life.
  • Death Wail: Oralie after Kenric’s death.
  • Disney Death:
    • Sophie and Dex, after being kidnapped, were thought to be dead in the first book. They have a funeral and everything.
    • Alden’s mind broke in Exile, making him brain-dead which, by elf standards, is funeral-worthy. Fortunately, Sophie brings him back.
    • Fintan supposedly dies along with Kenric in Everblaze, but makes an appearance in Neverseen.
    • Sandor falls off a cliff in Everblaze, breaking almost every bone in his body. But somehow, he lives.
    • Fitz gets stabbed in the stomach but doesn’t die, thanks to the actions of a certain Black Swan medic.
  • Domestic Abuse: In Everblaze, Sophie suspects that Lord Cassius abuses his wife, even though this accusation is proven false.
  • Doorstopper: Flashback is an insane 845 pages long. (The other books are no walk in the park, either!)
  • Double Agent: Alvar is secretly working for the Neverseen.
    • Oralie stays on Sophie’s side, even when the rest of the Council is hunting her down. She even commits treason to keep Sophie out of the Council’s hands.
  • Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: Jolie Ruewen. An elite prodigy secretly working undercover for the Black Swan by pretending to join the Neverseen but she’s not sure if she’s actually for the Black Swan or the Neverseen. And let’s not get Brant mixed up in this.
  • Downer Ending: Almost every single book, with the exception of Book 1, has one. For example, Neverseen ended with Keefe defecting to the Neverseen, and Lodestar ended with Sophie discovering her human parents have been kidnapped by the Neverseen.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Despite Dex being the best friend ever and blowing things up and fixing an iPod, he always gets the short end of the stick.
  • Epiphany Therapy: Needed for Keefe after he discovered his mom was probably dead.
  • Evil Is Burning Hot: Fintan and Brant are both Pyrokinetics, and work for the Neverseen.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: Brant is missing an ear, a hand, and his face is “more scar tissue than skin”. That’s what you get for messing with a Ruewen.
  • Face–Heel Turn:
    • Dame Alina, after being elected as a Councillor, tells Sophie she is “not afraid to make hard choices”. She doesn’t go back on her word.
    • Brant, suddenly turning on Sophie when she discovers he’s actually evil.
  • False Reassurance: Alden’s favourite phrase is “No reason to worry.” Even when there are definitely many, many things to worry about.
  • Fatal Flaw: Guilt would qualify for all of the elves. Most of the main characters' fatal flaw(s) is related to the way guilt manifests in them:
    • Personal loyalty gets Sophie into a lot of trouble over the course of the series. She can also be reckless, as well as indecisive.
    • Fitz has issues with anger, which cause him to lash out at others. This is deliberately exploited by the Neverseen in Book 7.
    • Keefe is extremely reckless, has low self-worth, and little regard for his own life. All three come together when he volunteers to fight King Dimitar in Sophie's place in Book 6.
    • Tam holds onto grudges and prioritizes Linh’s safety above everything else.
    • Dex has an inferiority complex and struggles with jealously.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Dex, the only Technopath who would think of stabbing a gadget with a stick to improve its signal.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: Sophie’s genes were tweaked by the Black Swan in order for her to have enhanced abilities.
  • Girls Love Stuffed Animals:
    • Sophie has a blue stuffed elephant named Ella that she can’t sleep without.
    • It’s not just girls, either! Fitz owns a sparkly red dragon named Mr Snuggles (that’s an Elwin-named stuffed animal, mind you), and Keefe has a gulon named Mrs Stinkbottom.
  • Half-Identical Twins: Tam and Linh are brother and sister, but identical in every other way - they have the same face, eyes, and hairstyle.
  • Hazy Feel Turn: Keefe - is he evil now? Or is he just working undercover?
  • Hope Spot: After the Downer Ending of Neverseen, it seems nothing will be okay ever again...then Prentice wakes up. Maybe all is not lost.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Yep.
  • I Am Not My Father: Keefe is an Empath like his father, Lord Cassius, and also has several marked similarities to his mother, Lady Gisela. He doesn’t want to be like either.
  • I Don't Like You and You Don't Like Me: Keefe hates Tam because he’s a pretentious bastard. Tam hates Keefe because he can’t be trusted.
    Keefe: Someone needs to tell Shade Boy the role of Troublemaker with Daddy Issues is already filled.
    Tam: The only people who refuse readings are those with darkness to hide.
  • Implicit Prison: Alvar is put under house arrest in Book 7, and is unable to leave the Vacker's property. Dex fashions a device called The Warden to monitor Alvar's every move.
  • Inevitable Waterfall: Used to the group’s advantage to escape Ravagog in Book 4.
  • Informed Attribute:
    • Thorough the series elves are stated to have no concept of sexism. However, they abide by gender stereotypes, to the point Keefe was mocked by other elves for braiding and generally taking care of his hair because he is a boy. Similarly, they are said to have no concept of racism and do not take race into consideration when choosing a partner. However, every black (except Livvy/Docor Asian character in the Books are related to each other and the Song family has been Asian-coded (Sophie describes them both as anime characters and K-pop stars) for generations. Most of the couples — at least those who have children — are monoracial as well. The fact that elves even have races identifiable to humans is indicative of the dissonance between what is stated by the author and what is represented in the books, as the main reason humans have is because they tended to keep to their own race when mating in the past, which wouldn't have been the case for elves, and Elvin families should have become a blend of all races with time.
    • Plus, Sophie is stated to be extremely clumsy at the beginning of the series, even by human standards, which is astronomically clumsy by Elvin standards, but it is seldom mentioned in the following books and even in the first, this attribute completely disappears at crucial moments, namely when she needs to fight and is only played to make her seem endearing or remind us that she does have a flaw. It is even completely forgotten about when she turns out the outmatch all of her friends, who are supposed to have perfect coordination, at throwing goblin stars - an act that requires a lot of coordination and precision.
    • Same with telepathy supposedly a rare talent, but being the most common talent amongst known characters.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Elves, who are stated to be a peaceful species who created a society where poverty has been eradicated — and know no concept of racism or sexism according to Word of God — have blue eyes. Sophie is the only exception to the rule, but it is because she was genetically engineered.
  • I Will Protect Her: Tam is extremely protective of his sister, Linh, even choosing to go with her into banishment rather than let her go alone.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: The Neverseen threatened to hurt Sophie if Dex didn’t give them the information they wanted.
  • Inhumanly Beautiful Race: Elves.
  • It's All My Fault:
    • Guilt is a HUGE theme in KOTLC. This happens at least once every book.
    • The most important one is when Alden’s mind breaks because of the guilt of helping to break Prentice’s mind and leaving Wylie parentless.
  • Jerkass: Bronte is prejudiced against Sophie for her human upbringing (in the first two and a half books at least), and really doesn’t like that he can’t Inflict pain onto her.
    • After becoming a Councillor, Dame Alina goes from Sophie Supporter to Sophie Hater in less than twenty-four hours.
    • The Hekses are weaselling bastards who jump on the bandwagon and insult everyone under the sun.
  • Killed Off for Real: Jolie Ruewen was killed in a fire before the start of the series. Although we have never actually seen a body, Shannon Messenger has confirmed that she is truly dead.
    • Kenric was killed by Everblaze in Everblaze, leading to a Meaningful Funeral and Personal Effects Reveal. As with Jolie, we haven’t seen an actual body yet, leading to some theories of how he might have survived like Fintan, but most agree that it’s fairly certain that he is dead.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Sophie likes Fitz and Keefe, Fitz may like Sophie and/or Linh, Keefe may like Sophie and/or Biana, Dex may like Biana and/or Linh, and Tam may like Biana. And absolutely none of this is officially canon.
  • Luke, I Might Be Your Father: Sophie thinks that Kenric might be her birth father, although this is not confirmed.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Fintan, and Brant.
  • Master Actor: Keefe. In Neverseen, Sophie says Keefe deserves an Academy Award for his performance in Ravagog.
  • Meaningful Funeral: Sophie and Dex have a funeral that leaves Grady and Edaline stricken for a second time - first they lost their daughter, now they supposedly lost their adopted daughter, too.
    • Alden has a funeral that is incredibly tear-jerking.
    • Kenric’s Killed Off for Real funeral is rudely interrupted by King Dimitar, the ogre king. And Sophie makes a very poor decision.
  • The Mole: Alvar secretly works for the Neverseen.
    • So does Brant.
  • Muggle Foster Parents: Literally. Their surname is "Foster". Sophie’s surrogate parents are humans, and Sophie herself thinks she’s human until Fitz arrives to tell her the truth. It is taken to another level as Sophie was implanted into her mother as an embryo and was effectively birthed into her human family.
  • Named After First Installment: The first book takes the title of the series, thus presumably being a Protagonist Title.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: In Everblaze, Sophie attempts to read King Dimitar’s mind, is found out, almost starts a war, and provokes King Dimitar into unleashing a deadly plague. Nice.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
    • Grady (rightfully so) burns off Brant’s hand when he admits to murdering Jolie. He would have burnt the rest of Brant’s body as well if Sophie hadn’t snapped him out of it.
  • Noodle Incident: The Great Gulon Incident.
  • No One Could Survive That!:
    • Sandor falls off a cliff in Everblaze, breaking almost every bone in his body, but survives due to Elwin magic.
    • Fitz gets stabbed in Neverseen but somehow lives.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Brant pretended to be broken by the guilt of Jolie’s death, while in reality, he was sneaking away to burn things for the Neverseen.
  • Oddly Common Rarity: Throughout the books, telepathy is stated to be a rare Talent at multiple times. However, an overwhelming majority of the elves we are introduced to turn out to be Telepaths, and Telepathy is the most represented talent within the main cast and within the Council itself. Plus, it doesn't help that somehow, most known Talents are said to be rare, when at least one has to be common.
  • One-Word Title: Every book other than the first:
    • Exile
    • Neverseen
  • Parental Betrayal: Keefe’s mother, Lady Gisela, is secretly working for the Neverseen. Not only this, but she attempted to kill Keefe in Exile.
  • Parental Substitute:
    • Grady and Edaline are Sophie’s foster, and later adopted, parents.
    • Sir Tiergan is Wylie’s adopted father.
  • Photographic Memory: Sophie and Keefe both have photographic memories.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Tam and Linh. Tam is defiant, rebellious, and fiercely protective, while Linh is quiet, shy, and drawn into herself.
  • Post-Scarcity Economy: In the elves' society, everyone receives a huge "birth fund" equivalent to around 5 trillion human dollars. As Della explains it, "Money is something we have, not something we need. No one ever has to go without." Since they're so long-lived, they work just to fill the time and for the joy of it.
  • Prince of Pranksters: Keefe Sencen of the Great Gulon Incident.
  • La Résistance: The Black Swan. ‘Nuff said.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Iggy the Imp. Also the verminion.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Sophie, too many times to count.
  • Second Super-Identity: Mr. Forkle is actually both Sir Astin and Magnate Leto.
  • Secret Identity:
    • The Black Swan leaders all wear disguises and have code names: Mr Forkle, Squall, Blur, Wraith, and Granite.
    • Mr. Forkle is actually both Sir Astin and Magnate Leto.
    • Granite is actually Sir Tiergan.
  • Secretly Selfish: Oralie becomes this when it is revealed she is Sophie's biological mother. While the Moonlark Project was vital and ultimately helped to save the Lost Cities more than once, her reasons for taking part in it are borderline selfish. Indeed, she states the fact that it was "her only way to have a child", as Councillors are forbidden from having families, as one of her main reason for taking part in the Project, even though by doing so she knowingly condemned Sophie to being Unmatchable, and had the gall to look distraught when she was told about it. It doesn't help that the only concern she expresses when Sophie confronts her is whether or not her test tube baby will out her and destroy her career, plus the fact that she was perfectly able to keep herself from having a relationship with Kenric, even when giving in would only have had consequences on her and not an innocent child. She seems unable to tell Sophie she loves her, which the Black Swan had claimed was the case and instead asks Sophie for yet another favour.
  • Self-Sacrifice Scheme: To make the cure for the gnomes’ plague, Calla sacrifices herself by turning into a Panakes tree.
  • Shipper on Deck: Sophie for Sandor and Grizel. Biana for Sophie and Fitz. Ro for Sophie and Keefe. Keefe acts like he’s this for Ro and Bo.
  • Significant Anagram:
    • “Kerlof” is an anagram for “Forkle”. Mr Forkle is Leto Kerlof’s Secret Identity.
    • “Tiergan” is an anagram for “Granite”. Granite is Sir Tiergan’s Secret Identity.
  • Sink-or-Swim Mentor: Bronte and his Inflicting sessions with Sophie.
  • The Squad: Sophie, Fitz, Biana, Keefe, and Dex. You could also include Tam and Linh.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Kenric and Oralie. They’re obviously in love, but they can’t be together due to the rule that Councillors can’t get married.
  • Superior Species: Elves. Who are more beautiful than humans, smarter than humans, nicer than humans, richer than humans, more technologically advanced than humans etc. ...
  • Synthetic Plague: The ogres bioengineered the plague to get the gnomes to be their slaves.
  • Tears of Remorse: Dex at the end of Everblaze. He keeps saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” after he permanently puts an ability-restricting circlet on Sophie.
  • Tell Me About My Father: Sophie repeatedly asks Mr Forkle this question.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Coiffe, the sardonic, resentful Black Swan member. Makes sense when you learn he’s actually Timkin Heks.
  • Trigger Phrase:
    • In Book 4, the Neverseen trigger some of Keefe’s hidden memories with the phrase ‘Lodestar Initiative’.
    • In Book 7, Vespera’s voice triggers Alvar’s memories to return.
  • When Trees Attack: The gnomes can control trees to make them, yes, attack you.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?:
    • Keefe’s dad, Lord Cassius, often expresses his wish that Keefe was more “like a Sencen”.
    • Tam and Linh’s father was ashamed that they were twins, and tried to pass off Tam as one year older. Tam and Linh refused to go along with it.
    • The entire Vacker family's reaction to Alvar
  • Withholding the Cure: King Dimitar used the cure to the plague as a bargain to get the gnomes to become his slaves.
  • Wizarding School: Foxfire, named after a glowing fungus.
  • You Have Failed Me: Wylie to Sophie in Exile. Wylie wants Sophie to wake up Prentice, but Sophie, who is the reason why his own father chose to let his mind be broken and thus abandon his family, doesn’t know how.


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