A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
In between the fantasy, magic, and elixirs, there's some real science. DNA plays an important role in numerous plot threads. So do the elves' efforts to save animal species from extinction.
Difficult choices where all the options are bad come up often. Strong messages of friendship, family, loyalty, kindness, courage and self-sacrifice. Working together with people you don't especially like, and the importance of everyone's skills, talents, abilities, and differences in trying to do good things, and cooperating for good results.
Positive Role Models
Sophie and her friends show a lot of loyalty to one another in difficult situations, and are always ready to help make things better for each other -- all while simultaneously dealing with crushes, high school social issues, squabbling species, and saving the world. Some adults are kind and supportive, others are ineffectual or downright evil -- and some families are seriously dysfunctional as a result.
Violence & Scariness
Much of the plot involves Sophie and her friends determining that they have to become skilled with weapons and be prepared to use them to kill enemies -- and characters meet violent death. As in earlier books, the teens suffer life-threatening battle injuries that test the limits of elvin medicine. Often the danger and damage are physical, as scars accumulate, bodyguards perish, and innocents are in constant peril. Mental violence, from erasing people's memories to inflicting assorted terrors, also plays a crucial role.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
That kiss you've been waiting for for about three volumes now? Doesn't happen here, either, nor does any real resolution of Sophie's conflicted crushes. Some definite odd couples, including the princess who's been forced to marry her dad's top warrior, while meanwhile her ex-boyfriend has joined the bad guys. Sophie takes a close interest in the pregnancy and birth experiences of her beloved alicorn, but the narrative glosses over the graphic details while alluding to the fact that they exist.
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Frequent references, often humorous, to poop, pee, farts, butts, etc.
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Products & Purchases
References to events, characters, and crises of the previous volumes are frequent, but this is somewhat necessary as an aid to the reader in dealing with an increasingly complex roster and cosmology.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Potions and elixirs are just part of life. Teen characters ingest a stunning amount of (usually gross or foul-tasting) elvin medications. Sophie, who makes a point of avoiding sedatives, has to take them anyway as part of her recovery from near-fatal battle injuries.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Flashback is the hefty (800+ pages) seventh volume in Shannon Messenger's Keeper of the Lost Cities series -- and far, far from anything resembling a conclusion. It has another cliffhanger ending and several tapestries' worth of dangling plot threads. As in previous volumes, the entire world is in peril. Kids suffer physical and mental violence, magical and otherwise, and grapple with the moral dilemmas of responding in kind. There's a lot of romantic angst as protagonist Sophie likes two boys, but nothing more than hugs and snuggling results. Among the multi-species bodyguards is a princess whose father has forced her to marry one of his warriors, while her ex is one of the bad guys. There are some cruelly dysfunctional families along with the kind ones. Also gross-out and bathroom humor, as the teens are always taking elvin medicine made from things like yeti pee. A beloved animal gives birth.
Is It Any Good?
Elf teens face hardship and moral dilemmas en route to another cliffhanger in this series installment that's exciting but a bit frustrating. Hoping for a satisfying wrap-up of Shannon Messenger's elvin epic? You won't get it this time. But if you love the series for the sparkly world-building, the costume changes, the inner turmoil over romance and world-saving, and the likelihood that some previously unmentioned event or magical capability will emerge at just the right moment, you'll be happy with Flashback. If you love the interplay of dozens of intriguing but still largely undeveloped characters as they find themselves in challenging situations and squabble among themselves -- or work together to achieve some heroic, impossible goal -- ditto.
But if you're waiting for author Messenger to reveal, say, Sophie's biological parents (after a multi-volume tease), you'll be none the wiser after 848 pages. And that pesky love triangle? Still triangulating. If you're in this for something other than the immersion, you may be feeling a bit strung along and losing patience about now.
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