The Keeper of the Lost Cities is NOT Harry Potter, But It Could Be Your Alternative
One thing that I should get out of the way right now is that I’m a massive, massive, Potterhead. But given the recent news surrounding J.K. Rowling’s transphobia, I’ve really been meaning to change up my go-to read for some magic school goodness, found family, puberty drama, and all those fun things. Not to completely replace Harry Potter in my heart, per se, but to have an alternative for other people who might want the same feels, but from a different author.
I also think it’s about time we all talk about a different middle grade series. One that’s similarly centered around a pre-teen bullied for her differences, but later finds out she’s from a different place–and species–altogether. And that she’s pretty darn special and important in that world.
The Keeper of the Lost Cities
The Keeper of the Lost Cities is a fun fantasy series that follows Sophie Turner as she ventures off into a new world where everything she knows about herself and the world around her, is proven to be wrong. There’s a reason why she was shipped off to live with humans as the “freaky genius girl.” And these very secrets are dangerous truths that others would die, and even kill, to find out.
Currently, we have 8 and a half books published, with the ninth book currently in the works by author Shannon Messenger. I’ve read all eight books within a month… Because, I promise you, as soon as you finish Book 1, it’s gonna be pretty darn hard to stop.
So for every Harry Potter fan out there–and even those who aren’t, but just want to explore a world of magic, mischief, and wholesome drama without supporting She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named..
Here are 4 reasons why KOTLC is a worthy alternative to HP:
1. A world of lovable characters
I think the biggest charm of a middle grade series is witnessing the growth of each character in every book. On top of that is exploring dynamics between them as they grow older. Sophie herself is such an endearing protagonist, and going with her throughout this whole journey has been crazy overwhelming for me as well as a reader. We meet her as a 12-year old, and by the end of the eight book, she’s almost 16, facing 16-year old problems on top of her world-saving ones.
Sophie by herself is already lovable, with her strength and courage and obliviousness and all-too-real insecurities as a teenager. But what makes her so endearing as well, is her relationship with the rest of her friends, family, and other people she works with–who are equally lovable in their own right. I can’t possibly name a favorite “side character”, because this series is full of them. And each book just adds another reason as to why I adore them so much.
The dynamics! The fun banter! Sophie’s crew of kids her own age and adults who are all so unique and capable that I’m always so excited whenever they’re all in one room together. Like I mentioned before, as they grow older, relationships and friendships start to go through normal puberty challenges (*wink wink*) –and it’s soooo heartwarming to read about how all of them overcome it together. (And because of that, if I have to pick a favorite side character, it would be Keefe! Or Biana! Or Dex! Or Sandor!!! Or… Oh no.)
All their motivations and story arcs are also very relatable. With the teenage drama of first crushes and first boyfriends, to family drama of feeling like you don’t quite belong in your own. Heck, even the villains’ motivations are valid. Sure, they go through some pretty messed up things to do that, but there’s value in the fact that they’re motivated by a real desire to change the world for–what they believe to be–better. (Which is the mark of a truly well-written villain, if I may add.)
2. Boundless world-building
Truly, the Lost Cities might very well be more vast and detailed than the magical world of Harry Potter. Basically, the Elves (hi did I mention these characters are elves?) live in the Lost Cities, which are parts of our world that have been lost to legends and mythology. Think the Bermuda Triangle, hidden parts of Mount Everest, Atlantis.. These are all places that the Elves inhabit, which means that their “territory” basically spans the whole world.
More than that, we meet and get to know other intelligent species like the goblins, the ogres, the dwarves, the trolls, and the gnomes. These are species that aren’t only mentioned or spoken about in passing like majority of the other creatures in Harry Potter, but we actually get to know them intimately. Either as part of the main entourage, or by visiting their own kingdoms and learning about their respective cultures.
And let me tell you–the stark differences of each species shine through every time we interact with them. That’s five other intelligent creatures that we get to know out of the elvin characters we have. I also found myself grinning at times at the wild imagination exuded to write all the worlds here, with each territory painting a vastly different picture than the last. It’s funny, most of the time descriptions here don’t logically make sense or it’s very difficult to wrap our heads around, in the case of Atlantis’ underwater transport system, the physics of flying off to the stars without physically feeling it, and so much more. But, I let my imagination run wild with it–and boy, was it fun.
That’s boundless world-building right there, in a sense that it defies logic and science, and all the things we think we understand about the rules of the world.
3. High stakes plot with complicated villains
In Harry Potter, it’s very clear from the get-go that our enemy is BAD and EVIL, and since the very beginning, there was an established distance between us (the readers), through Harry, and Voldemort.
Here, the enemies feel a lot closer physically and mentally. As, in the first books, we didn’t really know who the bad guys truly were. There was a lot of anonymity in the first few books, and we never really knew who was safe to trust–which heightened the tension a lot more. And when we finally found out who the real bad guys were? Well, that’s a whole other level of intensity there that you’ll fully experience when you get there.
As I said before, I think the villains’ motivations are also somewhat understandable–which makes them a lot more dangerous and scary. Whenever they describe their plans, or talk about the big why, it gets me thinking about how valid their concerns are, and how different it all would be if they just chose a different path to go about things. If they didn’t go through all these extreme means to exert change.
4. Fast, but not rushed, pacing
All eight books in this series are jam-packed with DETAILS and content.
In Harry Potter, each book represents Harry’s year in Hogwarts. Here, some books take place in a matter of weeks or months, or in-between school breaks. When I first went into this, I originally thought it would follow the same format as HP. But by the second book, when half of the story had already transpired before Sophie and her friends went back to school for their next year, I realized how wrong I was.
Sure, the pacing feels frustrating when you look at it in the grand scheme of things (summer break gets a whole book?), but each installment actually reveals a significant plot twist that moves our main story along. Since the main plot of each individual novel contributes to the BIG plot of the whole series, it doesn’t ever feel like the pacing is slow. By the last page of each book, you’re going to feel like you’ve already come so far and achieved so much.
So, by “fast pacing”, I mean that the action here is PACKED. In one day, it feels like 3 major events have already happened. So you never really feel bored. Even if, in real-time, we’ve only gone through a couple of weeks or months.
Also! Since each book is so detailed, we have plenty of content between characters. A lot of banter, a lot of “moments.” And the best part about it is that they never feel like “fillers,” even if the conversation was all fun. They’re able to package important information in highly entertaining dialogue. So, again, you’re never bored or wondering when the next crucial moment will be.
Because spoiler alert: it’ll probably happen in the next paragraph.
I truly, truly love this series. And the fact that it seems like we’re going to get A LOOOT more books before the end comes, is both exciting and frustrating for me. Exciting for my heart and my love for these characters, and frustrating for my wallet that just can’t seem to catch a break.
This would be a great book for pre-teens and teens to enjoy, but it can also be a great adventure for young adults like myself. I’m sure I would have loved this even more as a kid, similar to my love for Harry Potter which I read as I was growing up. But this works just as fine too.
So if you want to get lost in an entirely new universe that’s not as far from our own reality, I highly, highly, recommend the Keeper of the Lost Cities. You’re not going to regret adopting all these fictional characters!