Saturday, March 3, 2012

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (Brandon Sanderson)

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians
(The Alcatraz series, Book 1)
Brandon Sanderson
Fiction, YA Fantasy
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: When Alcatraz Smedry set fire to his foster parents' kitchen, he wasn't surprised. He always breaks things, sometimes just by being in the same room with them. Naturally, it'd mean another pair of foster parents would give up on him - these two had been remarkably tolerant, putting up with him for eight whole months - but what else was new? Ever since he could remember, he's been in foster care. Sometimes he wonders if he ever had a real mother or father, or if he broke them, too.
Which is why it was so strange when he received a gift on his 13th birthday, purporting to be from his father... but why would anyone, even a prankster, send him a box full of sand?
The next day, instead of the social worker he expected, Alcatraz finds a strange old man on the doorstep. Claiming to be his grandfather, he seems frantic to learn that the sand has gone missing - a fear Alcatraz can't help sharing, when the social worker arrives with a gun. Even though the old man saves his life, Alcatraz simply cannot believe his story: that America is part of the Hushlands, kept deliberately in the dark about the true nature of the world by the evil cultists known as Librarians, and that the stolen sand just might allow them to extend their grip over the remaining Free Kingdoms. Guns more primitive than swords? Magical Talents? Glasses that grant wearers special gifts? It's insanity, every word of it.
But, of course, that's exactly what the Librarians have trained him to believe...

REVIEW: Having enjoyed Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, and working for the local library system, I had to give this one a try. The story itself is decent enough. Alcatraz isn't the most noble of heroes, and never pretends to be; he goes to great lengths to point out his own cowardice, selfishness, and stupidity. His companions tend toward exaggerations, as befitting the inherently silly, often manic nature of the plot. Still, none of them are complete idiots, and even in their eccentricities they all carry their own weight. Alcatraz even manages to grow a little, if reluctantly and in spite of himself.
What lifted this book in the ratings was Sanderson's writing style. The unfettered glee with which he toys with the reader, reveling in his absolute power as the storyteller, turns a decent story into a marvelous one. The text is littered with literary references with an obvious tongue-in-cheek flair as Sanderson simultaneously salutes libraries and books while casting librarians in the role of the ultimate evil on Earth. It's been a while since I read a book that just had fun with itself like this. Hopefully, I can get my hands on the second volume someday - not necessarily because I'm invested in Alcatraz's adventures, but because it was such a kick to read.

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