Series: Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, Book 1
Author: Brandon Sanderson (site)
Publisher: Starscape (Tor)
Release Date: February 16, 2016
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Fantasy Adventure
Told: First Person (Alcatraz), Past Tense
Content Rating: Middle Grade (violence, minor torture)
Format Read: ARC (publisher)
Find On: Goodreads
Purchase On: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
On his thirteenth birthday, foster child Alcatraz Smedry gets a bag of sand in the mail-his only inheritance from his father and mother. He soon learns that this is no ordinary bag of sand. It is quickly stolen by the cult of evil Librarians who are taking over the world by spreading misinformation and suppressing truth. Alcatraz must stop them, using the only weapon he has: an incredible talent for breaking things.
* * *
Review copy provided by publisher for an honest review. Thank you, Tor!!
Review copy provided by publisher for an honest review. Thank you, Tor!!
In a Sentence: A concisely clever and comical adventure with witty writing, creative characters, and a playful and ponderous plot.
I originally discovered this book when it first released in 2007 from Scholastic, and after a thoroughly delightful read declared it pure brilliance and absolutely hilarious. I was heartbroken when it fell out of print a few years ago (it's hard to recommend a book one can't readily purchase!), so when Tor announced last year that its Starscape imprint would be reissuing the series, and with new illustrations by Hayley Lazo, I couldn't have been more excited! Alcatraz's playfulness and wit transcend age with flawless writing, quirky and diverse characters, and an original story that is fun and fraught with excitement and danger. In my opinion, a read really doesn't get much better!
The Story: After living with numerous foster families for thirteen years, Alcatraz Smedry receives - and quickly loses - a mysterious birthday inheritance from his real parents: a bag of sand. When his grandfather arrives (late, of course) and informs Alcatraz that his knack for breaking things (doors, kitchens, chickens) is a family Talent, and in the wrong hands the stolen sands could cause untold suffering, they infiltrate a library to steal back his inheritance from the dastardly evil librarians who secretly rule most of the world. Along the way Alcatraz breaks many, many things (some helpful, some not so much), discovers girls make killer knights and glasses are not just corrective eye-wear, and finds the true place where he belongs. Swiftly paced and hilariously witty, this is a quick and adventurous read with exciting action, engaging intrigue, and just the right amount of silliness.
The Writing: As a whole this book is a mastery in all areas of writing with sharp dialogue and precise description, but it is the concise and snappy movement that really make the prose pop for me - especially Alcatraz's actions and reactions when his Talent is activated. I don't know how many times Alcatraz tosses a handle in this book, but I snickered every single time. My favorite:
"I walked up, pulled open the screen door--threw the door handle over my shoulder as it broke off--then stepped inside after Grandpa Smedry."Written as an autobiographical account under a borrowed pen name (to hide from Librarian agents), the author allows himself comical and occasionally reflective chapterly tangents about things like fantasy stories (you know, "important" books where the boy's mother and dog die), irony (be prepared to own a mousetrap factory), information (and morons), and most amusingly (especially to a fellow writer like myself), authors:
"Some people assume that authors write books because we have vivid imaginations and want to share our vision. Other people assume that authors write because we are bursting with stories, and therefore must scribble those stories down in moments of creative propondidty.
Both groups of people are completely wrong. Authors write books for one, and only one, reason: because we like to torture people."So true, so true. But I digress.
The Setting: The "real world" of the librarian-oppressed Hushlands sprinkled with advanced Free Kingdom tech such as self-driving cars, empowering sunglasses, crystal swords, and stairs. While some things may seem a bit foreign, most of the tech is really rather logical when you let yourself ponder just how "advanced" many of our advancements really are...
The Magics: Just when I think no one could possibly come up with any more unique and original magics, Brandon "Magic Master" Sanderson presents the Smedry Talents, where arriving late, tripping, and breaking things are considered powerful gifts instead of mundane annoyances. Because what if you could arrive late to a bullet? Or trip and fall behind a sorting cart when you would rather not be seen? Or break a monster made out of romance novels when you would prefer not to be killed by it? But Sanderson doesn't stop there as this book also has a second magic: Oculary. Donning Lenses forged from different sands, those with the ability (Occulators) are able to follow the footsteps of those they know, translate illegible languages, and project ice, fire, and wind from their glasses. Both magics are unique, fun, and highly inventive, and add great humor and twists to the story. And we only scratch the surface of both magics in this book, which leaves a lot of further exploration and elaboration to look forward to as the series progresses!
The Characters: Wielding clever powers, advanced Free Kingdom tech, and unique looks, this book's quirky, diverse cast make for one lively and diverting read! With characters from all walks of life, there are no absentee guardians or unsupervised youth here - both children and adults get into all sorts of trouble and danger together, as they should. Alcatraz proves an unreliable and entertaining narrator with a flair for the dramatic and turns of phrase, and his indifferent, jaded approach to life and breaking things creates comical content and many quotable lines. (And paragraphs. And chapters. And books.) He isn't all comedy and quotes though as he deals with some more serious revelations about his past and complicated family, but this slightly somber edge to his character offers a nice balance to his otherwise prevalent playfulness. Rutabaga.
The Illustrations: As can happen with ARCs the illustrations were sadly draft so I can't give a full account of them when paired with the text. However even unfinished they were a fun addition to the narrative, especially the different glasses that headed each chapter, and I look forward to rereading the book again soon with the finished artwork!
Conclusion: Be it the first read or the fourth, Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians continues to be pure brilliance and absolutely hilarious! If you enjoy evil librarian stories with masterful writing, quirky characters, unique magic, forgotten languages, talking dinosaurs, and lanterns shaped like fruit, then I highly recommend you pick up this exceptionally entertaining and fantastical autobiography. (I mean, Middle Grade Fantasy. Yeah.) And while you're at it, I just as highly recommend grabbing the second book, The Scrivener's Bones, which rereleased February 16, 2016 as well (review to come soon)!
For Fans Of: Harry Potter