Alcatraz Smedry has successfully defeated the army of Evil Librarians and saved the kingdom of Mokia. Too bad he managed to break the Smedry Talents in the process. Even worse, his father is trying to enact a scheme that could ruin the world, and his friend, Bastille, is in a coma. To revive her, Alcatraz must infiltrate the Highbrary–known as The Library of Congress to Hushlanders–the seat of Evil Librarian power. Without his Talent to draw upon, can Alcatraz figure out a way to save Bastille and defeat the Evil Librarians once and for all?
It was a little bit strange starting off this book because the format of it was so different. Tor completely revamped the series, giving them much better cover art as well as illustrations, and the style fits the books really well—but the change was still jarring to me.
However, once I got used to it, I was able to enjoy all the usual Alcatraz nonsense. The footnotes were hilarious, especially the detailed list of deaths he never wants to die, and the book itself takes a drastic swing towards the dark as Alcatraz recounts his final tale. The change in atmosphere is abrupt, as the book is much more of a downer story than the first four, but I thought the bleak nature of it balanced well with the humor.
It’s actually quite hard to fully talk about this book, as the ending is quite surprising and saying too much would be a spoiler. It might be the best Alcatraz book in terms of mechanics (meaning it’s less formulaic), and Sanderson really upends and even makes fun of the prior books and what goes on in them. I appreciate authors who deviate from formulas, especially those who are willing to poke fun at what they wrote. And the illustrations really help the overall “serious-but-not-so-serious” nature of the books themselves—they are a great addition to the series.
The Dark Talent takes the series into a darker, bleaker place, but is almost arguably the better for it. The new look to the series adds to the overall atmosphere, and this novel in particular is the perfect balance of funny and serious. Sanderson is particularly devious in his plot mechanics in this book, though saying more would be spoiler-ific. This may be my favorite book in the Alcatraz series.
Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians, by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2007 by Scholastic.
Alcatraz Smedry doesn’t seem destined for anything but disaster. But on his thirteenth birthday, he receives a bag of sand, and life takes a bizarre turn. This is no ordinary bag of sand…and it is quickly stolen by the cult of evil Librarians who are taking over the world by spreading misinformation and suppressing truth. The sand will give the evil Librarians the edge they need to achieve world domination. Alcatraz must stop them!…by infiltrating the local library, armed with nothing but eyeglasses and a talent for klutziness.
I need to preface this review by stating that I love Brandon Sanderson. As an author, as a worldbuilder, he really is phenomenal. He’s incredibly prolific and has the knack for developing unique magic in all of his books. And that shows even in his books for younger audiences; The Rithmatist was wildly creative, and Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians is as well, especially the magic system.
The big draw of these books is the voice of Alcatraz-the-author, who interrupts and explains and rigmaroles his “origin” story, complete with cheeky winks and nods at Newbery Medal books and To Kill a Mockingbird. It actually reminded me quite a bit of Lemony Snicket, to be honest. And the reference at the end of the book to Harry Potter was amazing and completely on-point.
However, the one thing I discovered that I don’t like about these books (I’ve read them before, all but the most recent one) is that they are incredibly self-indulgent. You can tell Sanderson wrote these just to indulge his humorous side, the one that’s tamed a bit when he’s writing epic fantasy. And maybe I wouldn’t mind it so much if it wasn’t so obviously self-indulgent. But it is, and if there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s authors being blatantly self-indulgent.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The plot is great—did I mention how good Sanderson is?—the reveals are twisty and surprising in all the right places in all the right ways, and Alcatraz is that sort of bumbling, yet oddly competent boy hero that people love. He’s a lot like David in Steelheart, to be honest—I think Sanderson just enjoys writing those sorts of characters. Yet, the plot, when it wasn’t being funny or Snicket-esque (which is most of the time), is gratingly self-indulgent. Maybe some people are fine with that, but not me.
Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians is well-written, with a memorable protagonist and the sort of tongue-in-cheek, snide narrator that is funny most of the time. However, I found it a little too self-indulgent to be very satisfying, towards the end, and I actually began to get just a little annoyed. Different strokes for different folks, though. I honestly do like this series, because I think Sanderson is amazing, and I like most of the humor, but the tone hits me the wrong way at times.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“Now,” I said, holding up a finger. “I want to make something very clear. I do not believe a word of what you have told me up to this point.”
“Understood,” Grandpa Smedry said.
“I’m only going with you because someone just tried to kill me. You see, I am a somewhat reckless boy and am not always prone to carefully considering the consequences of my actions.”
“A Smedry trait for certain,” Grandpa Smedry noted.
“In fact,” I said, “I think that you are a loon and likely not even my grandfather at all.”