Alcatraz versus the Scrivener’s Bones (republished title The Scrivener’s Bones), by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2008 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians.
Alcatraz Smedry has an incredible talent…for breaking things! It generally gets him into a lot of trouble, but can he use it to save the day? In this second Alcatraz adventure, Alcatraz finds himself on a mission to meet Grandpa Smedry when he gets swept up by a flying glass dragon filled with his unusual and mouthy Smedry cohorts. Their mission? A dangerous library-filled one, of course! They are on their way to the ancient and mysterious Library of Alexandria (which some silly people think was long ago destroyed!) where they must find Grandpa Smedry, look for clues leading to Alcatraz’s potentially undead dead father, and battle the creepy, dangerous soul-sucking curators who await them.
I found Evil Librarians to be annoyingly self-indulgent, but either I was more prepared for it in Scrivener’s Bones or I didn’t notice it as much, because I enjoyed the tone much more in this book. The humor is definitely pointed at a select group of people (I think you have to enjoy a certain type of humor to really enjoy these books), but Sanderson utilizes the humor to give some important (and funny) lessons on author manipulation and other plot devices, all while selling his Alcatraz narration as someone who desperately wants everyone to know how much of a liar he is, even while telling a story he wants people to believe.
Sanderson also starts peeling back at his intricate plot in this book. Most of the book takes place in one location, the library of Alexandria, but you tend to forget that because it’s so fast-paced and interesting once the characters reach that point. There’s the overall plot being developed, as Alcatraz and Bastille wonder about and puzzle over the nature of technology and magic in general and Alcatraz’s Talent in particular. Then, there’s the “book plot” being developed, as they make their way through traps to rescue Grandpa Smedry and discover more about Alcatraz’s father along the way. Even while being funny and self-indulgent, Sanderson knows how to craft a plot.
Perhaps the one thing holding this book back from a higher rating is, well, for one, I do tend to do the gymnastics-judge thing of holding back higher scores for later books, but, for another, a few things struck me as a little odd and out-of-place that kept me from really enjoying this book.
It wasn’t so self-indulgent as before (or I didn’t notice it as much), but there were still points when Alcatraz backing away from the action to wax philosophical about bunnies and bazookas was a little annoying. However, the one thing that struck me the most at the end was Grandpa Smedry’s apparent lie that no one bothered to correct, or even appeared to think, “Why did he lie?” The only thing I can think of is that I’m misremembering details and that what I thought was a lie really wasn’t; if not, it means that Sanderson goofed up. I’m willing to guess it was my mistake, but still, that didn’t stop me from being completely and utterly thrown at the end of the book by an apparent authorial error.
I found Alcatraz versus the Scrivener’s Bones much more entertaining and much less self-indulgent than the first book. I was able to get into the tone of the book more easily and enjoy myself throughout the adventure, admiring some of the more prominent bits of foreshadowing Sanderson is throwing in (as I’ve mentioned, I’ve read this series before, up until the most recent book). Some things still threw me off a bit, but, overall, this book was an improvement over the first.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“Do you really have the Talent of Breaking Things?”
I shrugged. “That’s what they tell me. What’s your Talent?”
Australia smiled. “I can wake up in the morning looking incredibly ugly!”
“Oh…how wonderful.” I still wasn’t certain how to respond to Smedry Talents. I usually couldn’t ever tell if the person telling me was excited or disappointed by the power.
Australia, it seemed, was excited by pretty much everything. She nodded perkily. “I know. It’s a fun Talent—nothing like breaking things—but I make it work for me!”