Thursday, March 12, 2009

Alcatraz's adventures

Bet you didn't know that the world was secretly controlled by a cult of power-hungry evil Librarians. I didn't either until I read Brandon Sanderson's Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians and Alcatraz versus the Scrivener's Bones. I can no longer turn a blind eye to the evil doings of those nefarious fiends and their dire plots to change the world as we know it. Alcatraz has shown me the light and since the books are riddled with his editorializing and explanations and outright lies, I'm going to attempt to take his word for it despite what he says.

Or maybe not. I do like librarians and have often thought maybe I should have become a children's librarian, just so I could read books all day and plan story times and get my greedy hands on every new book that comes through the door before anybody else. But Alcatraz is adamant that Librarians (with a capital L) are indeed villains who have changed history and redrawn the map of the world. So far, they've only taken over North America and Europe, but they're working on the rest of the world.

Alcatraz Smedry is blissfully unaware of the state of things until his inheritance from his long-lost parents shows up at his door on his 13th birthday: a package of sand with a cryptic note attached. Alcatraz has never known his parents and has floated from foster home to foster home over the years, due to the fact that he can't seem to stop breaking things. Door handles come off when he touches them, tables fall apart them he comes near, flames leap out of stoves when he uses them, etc. His unusual talent makes it difficult for people to want him around. As soon as his inheritance arrives, so does his grandfather, Leavenworth Smedry. Alcatraz didn't even know he had a grandfather and when Grandpa Smedry begins to reveal the true state of the world, Alcatraz can't believe what's he's hearing. Soon their adventures begin, starting with the bag of sand that has been stolen out from under him and taken back to that den of iniquity, the main library branch downtown.

The Smedry family is old and a great enemy to the Librarians due to their powers as Oculators. An Oculator uses different lenses (like glasses) to see or demonstrate different powers. They can track people by their footprints, blow great gusts of wind, shoot lasers, freeze objects and many more, depending on the lenses they have at their disposal. Alcatraz gets some fast lessons on how to use them and then is tossed into infiltrating the Librarian stronghold to retrieve his sand.

These are fun books, but mostly because of Alcatraz's narration throughout. He constantly denies his honesty, goodness and virtue and tries to convince the reader of their ignorance of how the world really is. I love his rant against authors, proclaiming their misanthropy and general delight in torturing readers by including cliff hangers at the end of chapters that don't resolve in the next chapter (he's talking to you, Dan Brown). That was half the fun for me.

My eight-year-old daughter loved these books and most of the reason why I read them was because I like to know what she loves to read. I was holding a boycott against Brandon Sanderson for a while because he made me cry like a little girl at the end of Mistborn: Hero of Ages, but I forgave him and read the Alcatraz books for my daughter. Then we could laugh together about bunnies having birthday parties and falling Samoans and other such nonsense that we both got a kick out of in the book. She hated all the narration, she just wanted to know what was going to happen next and started skipping over all the parts I loved the most. I guess this shows how the books could appeal to different audiences. Whatever. It was fun and I got to giggle with my daughter over it.

My next daughter might become obsessed with horses and then we'll read Black Beauty or Misty of Chintoteague and we'll bond over flowing manes from galloping horses instead of evil Librarians. Whatever it is, I can't wait. This has got to be one of my favorite parts of being a parent. When we read Charlotte's Web again recently, my six-year-old and I cried together over the ending. The last time we read it, she was too little to get it, but now she does and it moved her when she understood Charlotte's sacrifice and friendship. What other avenue can you have such discussions with your children than from reading to them out of the best books? Or just okay books? Or even books about kids who have prisons named after them--not the other way around, but you'll have to read Alcatraz to know why.

My eight-year-old is a fast reader and she's already polished off a stack of books that she is anxious for me to read. If I don't keep up with her, I will have to hear, "You haven't read The Thief Lord yet? Mom!" I might have to delegate some of the books out to my husband so we can keep up with her. I don't think he'll mind.


  1. So what reading level are these books? They sound like something Zachary would eat up!

  2. says 9-12, but if he's a good enough reader, he should enjoy it. There are some references and jokes he may not get, but then again, a twelve-year-old probably still wouldn't get them. I have a feeling that Sanderson was just having fun and making jokes that made him laugh.

  3. I'm glad you read these! I've been curious about them but haven't had the time to explore yet. It sounds like it'll be worth it when I do!

  4. M just finished reading both of these. She giggled through the first one. The second one was a bit more intense for her but she is already pestering me about when book 3 is going to be released.

  5. Has anyone figured out the "literary joke" mentioned at the beginning of Chapter 15 of Alcatraz versus the Scrivener's Bones?