Unlocked: Keeper of the Lost Cities, Book 8.5

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Unlocked: Keeper of the Lost Cities, Book 8.5 Book Poster Image
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Short tale, long reference volume best for super fans.

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age 9+
Based on 13 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

While Unlocked is a hefty reference tome, it's a reference book about a convoluted world that exists mainly in the author's mind, with an elvin world sharing the planet and overlaid atop the human one. For purposes of navigating the story's geography, technology, ever-proliferating species, and dozens of characters popping in and out for cameo appearances, to say nothing of their secret identities, this is an essential reference that brings the reader an enhanced refresher course on the previous eight volumes and their events. Myth, magic, and science often converge, with results that don't map to the "real" world. The elves are very concerned with human-generated pollution of the planet.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of courage, friendship, teamwork (even when team members are less than thrilled with each other), self-sacrifice, kindness, and determination.

Positive Role Models

The reference portion provides narrative biographies of most of the key characters, which adds some depth to their frequently one-note appearances in the story, including their complexities. In the brief narrative section, Keefe is brave, altruistic, lots of fun, devoted to Sophie -- and also obsessed with revenge against the evil parent known as "Mommie Dearest." Sophie continues to grow as a leader, pursue her mission with dedication, devise clever plans -- while also dealing with broken romance, parent issues, and personality conflicts.


Over the course of the previous eight volumes, Sophie alone has suffered more physical, emotional, and mental violence from assorted villains, including imprisonment and torture, than anyone could sustain without a lot of magical healing. It's all revisited, as are the scars other characters have acquired in near-mortal combat or other mistreatment. The deaths of characters lost along the way, and the mental torture inflicted on others, are described anew in reference materials, and Keefe is grappling with the effects of his mom's dark spells in the story section.


Sophie's dealing with the aftermath of of a breakup. Keefe continues to nurture undying, self-sacrificing love for her. The matchmaking practices of elves (basically optimized for selective breeding of ever more powerful elves) receive much attention, as does the elvin prejudice against twins and any family with more than one child. 


Much of Unlocked's content is an extended promotion of the series' previous installments, to the point that author Messenger appears often with warnings not to even think about reading the next bit if you haven't read the other books first. Indeed, very little here will make sense if you're not up to speed on the whole saga. Many sections feel like they belong on an author or fan club website, and some of them (for example, the color-your-own Iggy the Imp page) first appeared in that format. Teasers for the future Book 9 are plentiful.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of elvin medicine with magical properties.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Unlocked is, for the most part, an archive of reference materials for the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, with a brief but intense narrative section that sets up Book 9, and lot of commentary by author Shannon Messenger, who's clearly having a lot of fun with her readers (and messing with them). It will make no sense whatever to readers unfamiliar with the series, but will be a valuable navigational aid to readers who find the complexity getting out of hand over the course of eight volumes so far. True devotees will revel in the gorgeous art, fannish quizzes and coloring pages, and an inside look at bad-boy Keefe's detention records. The story has involved a lot of violence (physical, mental, and emotional), death, loss, toxic family relationships, dark magic, assorted other mayhem, and endless references to the pee, poop, and other bodily fluids of magical animals -- and it all gets revisited. As does Sophie's conflicted romantic history, her even more conflicted family history (she was genetically engineered from DNA donated by elves, raised by humans, and is now adopted by an elvin family), and her still largely undefined world-saving responsibilities. Pee and poop, usually of magical beings, are an essential ingredient in most of elvin medicine and are recurring story elements. Also pus and other disgusting bodily fluids -- there's an ongoing grossout theme throughout the series. Promotion of the previous books, the upcoming book, and related online content is a bit relentless.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byThalia Grace December 18, 2020

The Keefe parts saved it

So it really is wonderful if you forgot what exactly occurred in certain books with how long they are.
BUT the Registry is BORING, since the characters don... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byMilMiz2 December 16, 2020

Great series guide and awesome novella!

Unlocked is great for kids (or adults!) that have read the other books. More than half of the book is a "series guide," meaning that it's full of... Continue reading

What's the story?

The first 500 pages or so of UNLOCKED are a compendium of spectacular art, fan activities, archival records, character bios, and other supplementary materials that, one way or another, add depth to the previous Keeper of the Lost Cities installments. They also sum up what's happened so far -- so longtime readers will be right there, memories refreshed, with the young elvin heroes as the brief narrative portion opens. Told from the alternating perspective of series protagonist Sophie and Keefe, the elvin bad boy who's devoted to her and tends to make bad choices for noble reasons, it finds Keefe emerging from horrific magic inflicted by his villainous mom -- with nobody knowing what the lasting effects might be. Sophie and her friends, meanwhile, decide they need to change their strategy for dealing with the Neverseen.

Is it any good?

If you're a hardcore Keeper of the Lost Cities fan who loves to spend quality time with characters' detention records and make your own elvin treats, this installment is for you. You'll be in heaven with Unlocked, a very mixed bag of information, activities,  "archival records" on the various characters, what they've been up to, and, sometimes, why, for the previous eight volumes. Considering the rate at which the series comes up with characters, animals, magical beings, and cosmological features, it's a rare reader who doesn't, at some point, have a "Wait, what?" moment, or need a refresher on the difference between a gulon and a gorgodon. It's also good prep for the "novella" portion at book's end -- which, as readers have come to expect, involves inner turmoil, new powers and conflicts, a cliffhanger ending, and an author who chortles about it in the afterword while urging readers to buy the next book. The stellar artwork, especially Laura Hollingsworth's gorgeous, full- color story scenes and character portraits, adds a welcome dimension.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about books like Unlocked, which are basically supplements to an existing series. Do you think things like art, activities and background information help you enjoy the series more, or do you just want them to get on with the story?

  • As Sophie's discovered, a lot of things in the elf world are wonderful, and others not so much, magic or no magic. What parts of life in the Lost Cities would you like in your own life -- and which would you like to keep far away?

  • The elvin world respects many abilities -- while hating and fearing others. Do you see this happening in our world too?

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