Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

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Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

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Category: Teens
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: While it has its own in-built criticism this fantasy is just too schizophrenic for its, or anyone's, own good.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 208 Date: February 2013
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 9781444006681

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The celebration of Alcatraz's thirteenth birthday is quite a muted one – he gets a thirteen-year old parcel of sand in the post, claimed to be his inheritance from his birth parents, and he burns down the kitchen in his foster home – the latest in a long line of disasters that have followed him in his short accident-prone life. Expecting to just be farmed out to more foster parents, instead he is the subject of a battle between an armed man and a strange old fellow claiming to be Alcatraz's grandfather. What's more the guy says Al's abilities in breaking things are a Talent with a capital T, and the sands – that were stolen overnight – are a great threat to the world in the hands of Librarians (with a capital L). Against all his own instincts, our anti-hero goes with the latter man, finding his destiny in freeing the western world from the evil Librarians, and telling us about it later as an adult in a most sardonic fashion.

And the word anti-hero is key here. Our author, describing his younger adventures, is always at pains to tell us he did things for the wrong reason – such as letting the kitchen burn in the first place. He comes from a period of great ignorance in his life, finds out so much about the real world he couldn't have suspected due to those wicked Librarians and their favoured, worthy books, and everything proceeds with him doing things in a counter-productive fashion en route to the conclusion of this, the first of four in the series.

Unfortunately, our actual author, Brandon Sanderson, does so much that is counter-productive too. The interjecting from old Alcatraz into the story of young Alcatraz is just annoying. The plot is clearly all over the place, allowing for anything and everything – packed lunches held in briefcases, Tardis-like headquarters in odd places in gas stations, random mentions of sharks – and clearly someone is trying too hard. The granddad talks with exclamation marks all the time, whether they’re on the page or not, swearing in the fashion of Blistering Brooks! or Nagging Nixes! – each one invoking a better fantasy writer than Sanderson.

On the plus side, the imagination sprawled over the page does allow for some fun. It's certainly to the credit that people can have Talents such as breaking things, being late all the time or falling over a lot, and for those skills to be so useful to providing jollies in a fantasy world. But so much of this is ruined by, again, that authorial voice, interrupting itself to pre-empt the narrative, breaking the fourth wall with asides – and when it criticises itself for the umpteenth time (I apologize for that last chapter. I was far too deep and ponderous.) you're just left nodding in agreement.

People generally don't recommend this kind of book at all says the narrator, referencing the kind of world suppressed by the Librarians. But he's unfortunately accurate. This is six years late in crossing the pond. This unfortunately is quirk for quirk's sake, wackiness becoming just too weird, and unfunny invention masquerading as ribald creativity. I don't want to suppress this kind of thing, I just want other, better series to be read long before this one.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Quirky wacky adventure with children facing a huge unknown conspiracy? AND with the author butting in on himself, to much amusing effect? It has to be the five books starting with The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch.

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