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Book Review

Exile by Shannon Messenger has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the second book in the “Keeper of the Lost Cities” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Sophie Foster is struggling to overcome the nightmares she has experienced since she was kidnapped, drugged and nearly killed. She finds comfort with her adopted elven parents, Grady and Edaline, and her elven friends Dex, Keefe, Fitz and Biana. Since she nearly faded from existence (in the previous book), Sophie has discovered some strange consequences. On the negative side, she is extremely sensitive to bright lights and succumbs to excruciating headaches. On the positive side, Fitz can now communicate telepathically with her.

On an excursion with Dex and Grady to find a yeti, Sophie discovers an alicorn. This creature, a unicorn that can fly, is even more unique than she is. The alicorn bonds telepathically with Sophie, and the Council instructs her to train it for a special presentation. Silveny, as the creature is named, is a much-needed symbol of hope in a time when Elves feel vulnerable.

On the 16th anniversary of their daughter Jolie’s death, Grady and Edaline take Sophie to visit her grave. Death is a rare occurrence for elves, so they plant a tree infused with the loved one’s DNA in a special forest. As Sophie leaves her adoptive parents alone so they can mourn, she comes across the tree planted in her memory when it was believed she had died. At the base of the plant she finds a silver bracelet with two charms: an elephant and a locket with intricate circles.

Edaline and Grady bought the bracelet as a gift for Sophie for her upcoming school year, but they had not bought the locket charm. It was a gift from the Black Swan, the elusive organization that created Sophie and whom Grady believes killed his daughter. The locket, a compass, is inscribed with the message to let the past be her guide. Grady warns her not to trust that group, but Sophie feels they hold the secrets to help her.

Sophie is scared when she realizes she can’t block Silveny’s thoughts from her mind. The alicorn continually calls to her because it is lonely and tired of being held captive. It is another example of how Sophie’s mind has changed since she was first kidnapped (in the first book).

Alden asks Sophie to help him on a difficult and secret mission. He takes her into the Elven Exile, a multi-layered prison guarded by dwarves. Alden wants Sophie to establish a mind-link with him while he mentally interrogates a prisoner named Fintan. She sees how Fintan created the Everblaze that nearly destroyed her family. Fintan’s mind splinters under the scrutiny, and Alden is dragged into his fragmented memories.

Panicked, Sophie desperately pushes images of Alden’s family into his mind to call him back from insanity. Although difficult, she manages to save him. As they make their way out of the prison, Sophie sees the name “Prentice” over one of the cells. He was the elf whose mind was broken for keeping the secret about her and the Black Swan.

Sophie enters his cell and attempts to see the insane man’s memories. She manages to retrieve a vision. In it, she follows a black swan to Jolie. The young woman tells her to trust and follow the bird across the sky. Before she can get more information, Alden pulls her from Prentice’s mind.

Sophie survives, but experiences a tremendous headache. Alden, too, seems to be suffering after the events and passes out. Sophie again reaches out to his mind and brings him back to consciousness. Although they both appear fine for several days, Alden collapses during the celebration for the opening of school.

When Sophie visits Alden’s house the following day, she discovers that he appears to be mentally broken, just like Prentice. Fitz blames her for his father’s condition, as he knows she thinks her mind was altered after the kidnapping. While the Council hides Alden’s condition from the Elven society until an official announcement can be made, Sophie makes it her mission to find a way to restore Alden’s sanity.

She thinks the Black Swan may be able to help her and looks for clues on how to find them. She senses something important may be hidden in a childhood journal, but when she finds it, she discovers the Black Swan has ripped out important pages. Her friend, Keefe, shows her how to see the imprint of her pen on the last page of the book.

After reading the message, she flashes on a memory of a boy in a team jersey who disappeared. Keefe explains that the jersey was from a tournament about eight years ago. Unfortunately, without more information, all Sophie learns is that she had been visited by elves while she was still living with her human family.

Since Alden’s family believes Alden’s break with reality is permanent, they decided to hold a memorial service for him in the Wandering Woods. Fitz continues to blame Sophie for not saving his father. She leaves him and comes across Wylie, Prentice’s son. He asks her what she is waiting for, explaining further that his father told him that if he were ever broken, she would be able to bring him back. Sophie realizes that her mind really is malfunctioning and she needs to find the Black Swan so they can reprogram her. After a series of mysterious notes, she is told that they can indeed fix her.

Grady and Edaline allow Sophie to ride Silveny to find the Black Swan, but only if Keefe accompanies her for protection. He is the only other person the alicorn trusts to ride her. The two travel a long distance until they come to a cave. Sophie must leave Keefe and Silveny behind. She is drugged and taken to a secret place where Mr. Forkle, an elf who had impersonated a human so he could keep an eye on her as she grew up, intends to heal her.

Sophie demands answers to her many questions about who she is and for what purpose the Black Swan made her. Forkle agrees to answer only one question. For her adoptive parent’s sake, she asks if the Black Swan killed Jolie, and he gives his word that they did not. Forkle explains that he created her, tweaking her DNA to make her a powerful tool. One of her abilities was to heal those who had been lost to the breaking.

Using a little alicorn DNA, she should be able to push powerful positive thoughts into a victim’s mind, encouraging him to come back to reality. But now that her mind has been compromised because of what the kidnappers did to her, she needs to be reset. This requires her to take limbium, a powerful Elven drug to which she has a deadly reaction. Forkle has an antidote, but it has not been tested. The limbium will heal her mind, but it may kill her. Sophie decides to risk death in order to regain the ability to heal Prentice and Arden.

Brought back from death and in great pain, she and Keefe prepare to take Silveny home. Her kidnappers, however, have found her again and attack. Silveny’s wing is broken in the ensuing fight before Sophie is able to teleport them home.

Sophie and Grady face exile for taking Silveny out of her protected habitat without the permission of the Council. The fact that the creature was hurt is a serious offense. Silveny is to make her public debut in front of the Elven population. The Council allows Sophie the opportunity to heal Alden, before they seek to punish her and Grady.

The following day, Sophie uses her newly reset mind to pull Alden back to reality. Although the Council is relieved, Councilor Bronte, Sophie’s nemesis, demands that Grady be punished for his role in Silveny’s injury. After much argument, Sophie promises that she will have Silveny ready to make a spectacular entrance at the upcoming celebration. In exchange, the Council will not seek to punish anyone. All the Councilors, except Bronte, agree.

On the night of the big celebration, all the elves gather to see the revealing of the alicorn. Sophie and Silveny leap from a cliff in full view of the audience. As they approach the ground, Sophie uses her ability to teleport to bring them to the ground before they crash into it. Full of adrenaline, Silveny then proves her wing to be healing by flying a few feet.

The elves then take Silveny to their hidden sanctuary in the Himalayas, but Sophie promises to visit. Sophie’s friends, including the apologetic Fitz, surround her, impressed with her newly revealed ability to teleport. As she laments the fact that she is not normal, they assure her that they love her just as she is.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The Elven world includes mythical creatures in addition to elves, such as goblins, unicorns, alicorns, gnomes and dwarves. Mythical cities also exist, such as the city of Atlantis. Gnomes are said to absorb energy from the sun and so need little sleep. At one time, elves tried to guide human beings out of darkness and into a new age of light.

Most of the great inventions of humankind are attributed to elves, including penicillin and electricity. Elves are almost immortal. On the rare occasion that one dies, the elve’s DNA is bonded with that of a tree. The resulting plant inherits some of its predecessor’s attributes.

Authority Roles

Grady and Edaline are Sophie’s adopted parents. They love her, and for the most part, try to keep her safe. Alden is a mentor figure. Sophie often goes to him for help when she has questions about her past. Both Alden and Grady allow Sophie to enter dangerous situations.

Alden accompanies Sophie into Exile, but then puts a great deal of responsibility on her untested shoulders, trusting her to bring him back from insanity as he questions Fintan. Grady lets her seek help from the Black Swan, even though he believes they were responsible for his daughter’s death.


Jolie’s fiancé, Brant, attacks Sophie in order to steal her family crest pin. He held down her shoulders with one arm, while the other ripped the pin from her cape. Both Sophie and Dex suffer lingering trauma from their kidnapping. Both were repeatedly drugged and beaten when they did not obey their kidnappers.

Dex was burned for disobeying. Sophie accidently transports herself into a tree and falls some 20 feet to the ground. She sees Fintan’s memory of the Everblaze burning him and killing five of his friends. He remembers their anguished cries as they burned to death.

Fintan’s memories burn Alden’s and Sophie’s hands. When Sophie probes Prentice’s mind, she feels as if her body is being stung and electrocuted. Bronte is able to mentally inflict excruciating pain on Sophie before Forkle heals her.

Sophie takes a dose of limbium, which causes her to go into anaphylactic shock and experience immense burning pain. She feels herself dying but is saved by the antidote Forkle gives her. The kidnappers try and steal Silveny. Keefe uses a type of light gun against them called a melder. He also uses metal throwing stars as weapons. He is hit in the head with a rock. Silveny’s wing is broken in the fight.


Although it is obvious that Dex, Keefe and Fitz are all rivals for Sophie’s affections, nothing overtly romantic occurs.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 12


Shannon Messenger






Record Label



Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s publishing division


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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