Monday, November 9, 2009

Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians

It seems like I've been reading a lot of books lately in which certain characters possess singular magical talents. There's Ingrid Laws's Savvy, with its storm-makers and perfect mothers; Graceling, with its phenomenally skilled warrior maiden; and Bones of Faerie, with various kinds of faerie magic suddenly appearing in different characters. And now there's thirteen-year-old Alcatraz, an orphan who's been bumped around from one foster home to another, due to his peculiar yet powerful talent for breaking things.

He's just accidentally set his current home on fire, which is, of course, the last straw for this set of foster parents. He's waiting for the social worker to come pick him up, and the day is ironically his birthday. He is astounded to receive a mysterious package in the mail from his parents that bears stamps from thirteen years earlier. "Here is your inheritance, as promised," reads the note inside. He opens the paper bag, only to find it contains nothing but sand.

Funny that the sand should suddenly disappear from his room. When an old man shows up claiming to be Alcatraz's grandfather and saves him from a man holding him at gunpoint, Alcatraz's life will never be the same. He discovers that he is an oculator (you'll have to read the book to find out exactly what that is), and that his talent for breaking things is actually not such a bad thing to have. Grandpa Smedry drags him into a world in which librarians are evil and menacing (who, me?) and Alcatraz finds himself on a mission with his grandfather, his cousins Quentin and Sing Sing and a fierce (and grumpy) warrior girl named Bastille. Together they must breach the spookiest and most dangerous librarian stronghold around: the downtown library. Action, excitement, adventure and mayhem ensue.

This book is such a lot of fun, from the outrageous premise to the humorous opinions and comments voiced by its outspoken narrator. He says things like,

Perhaps you think that my habit of using sarcasm is simply a method of hiding my insecurity. Perhaps you've decided that I wasn't a cruel boy, just a very confused one. Perhaps you've decided, despite my feigned indifference, I didn't like breaking things.

Obviously, you are a person of very poor judgment. I would ask you to kindly refrain from drawing conclusions that I don't explicitly tell you to make. That's a very bad habit, and it makes authors grumpy.

This is one of those books that would make an excellent read-aloud, not only for the strong voice and humorous asides of the narrator, but because Sanderson is obviously having great fun lampooning everything in sight, and much of the humor will be equally appealing to adults as well as children. I handed this one to my ten-year-old as soon as I finished it. It's in her book pile, waiting for her to finish up her current Percy Jackson novel. I'm very much looking forward to the further adventures of Alcatraz Smedry and his colorful friends.

Here is an interesting interview with Brandon Sanderson from the Fantasy Book Critic's blog.

Books in the Alcatraz series:
1. Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians
2. Alcatraz versus the Scrivener's Bones
3. Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians (#1 in the Alcatraz series) by Brian Sanderson (Scholastic, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews: "I think everyone should read this book. Seriously."
Bookshelves of Doom: "It was funny. There are cracks about everything from the Newbery Award to Harry Potter to Michael Crichton -- and while it's geared towards the middle-school boy crowd, I think there are a lot of adults who'll get a huge kick out of it."
Fyrefly's Book Blog: "...while Sanderson’s outsized imagination and skill at creating unique, internally consistent magical systems is intact, Alcatraz has a completely different tone than Sanderson’s adult books, and has both the action and the goofiness turned up to 11."


  1. Whoa. Darla, I think we might have some weird Evil Librarian vibe going because I just posted my review of this book this very morning. I also thoroughly enjoyed it, including Sanderson's use of the word "grumpy" which is a sadly underused word.

    Librarians Unite!

  2. Kiirstin - This is clearly an evil librarian plot, mwhahaha! I'm off to read your review. Now, where did I put my glasses? :-)

  3. I would be a FAR more evil librarian than the ones in this book. Was actually a little disappointed at the lack of cleverness-- of course, the librarians were the villains!

  4. Ms. Yingling - You know, you have a good point there. I wouldn't be nearly so bumbling!

  5. Oh, these books are so good! I've had the third one on my nightstand for a while now, and I'm hugely looking forward to it!


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