Title: Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Read Date: 27 September 2011
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Review in a nutshell: Classic Sanderson gone Middle Grade! Fun and funny!
Moral of the Story: Librarians make for great villains!
Author’s Synopsis: On his thirteenth birthday, Alcatraz Smedry—a foster child—gets a bag of sand in the mail which purports to be his ‘inheritance’ sent from his father and mother. The Librarians, of course, immediately steal the bag of sand from him.
This sparks a chain of events which leads Alcatraz to realize that his family is part of a group of freedom fighters who resist the Evil Librarians—the secret cult who actually rule the world. Alcatraz’s grandfather shows up and tows him off to infiltrate the downtown library to steal back the mystical bag of sand. The ensuing story involves talking dinosaurs, sentient romance novels, and a dungeon-like labyrinth hiding beneath the innocent-looking downtown library.
This was classic Sanderson, with fun characters and an interesting world ruled by Evil Librarians who have obscured the truth from us Hushlanders. Oh, and there were dinosaurs who spoke with British accents, and whose idea of a “disturbance” is putting library books out-of-order and eating a chunk of the science fiction collection.
Sanderson’s M.O. (creating new magic systems) is evident here–the Smedry Talents and the powers of the Oculators are certainly something new and their rules are well thought out. He follows the usual Hero’s Journey template, so the story works on a fundamental level, but with the addition of the new fantasy elements, the plot becomes even more interesting.
What makes the narrative fresh is Alcatraz Smedry’s first person perspective–not only does he tell us about his weird and wonderful adventures, but he also talks about being an author and writing fantasy, which I thought was funny because I can imagine Alcatraz joining Sanderson in one of his Writing Excuses podcasts. Alcatraz even takes a proactive stance against people with a penchant for jumping to the last page of a book! Those asides can sometimes get annoying and tend to take the reader out of the story, but they’re funny enough that they’re tolerable once you get used to them.
I admit that it took me a while to finish this, though. I started the book months ago but stopped after about 30 or so pages because I couldn’t get into the story as easily as I did with all the other Sanderson books I’ve read so far. I only took this up again yesterday because I was stuck at home in a storm, so I thought a short book would do to pass the time.
This is his first middle grade/YA outing, so I can understand that it’s probably not that easy to change your writing style to suit the intended audience. The first few pages were a little too gimmicky, so it took some willpower–and a healthy respect for Sanderson’s talent–to keep reading. But maybe that’s just me. It definitely got better, though! I mean, if the first line of your book is:
then it can only get better, right?
I’m glad I took this up again because I had fun (Sanderson makes me laugh like no other author can), and I look forward to reading Book 2!