Since I’m writing a YA novel, I felt it was a good idea to read some YA. I picked up Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians for a couple of reasons. First, as I am writing YA I wanted to get my hands on books in the same genre. Second, my main character is a little engineer. He has a special helmet he designed with a scope and pen-light attached. On the front cover of “Alcatraz” is a boy with a helmet and lenses.
I was a bit freaked at first. Thinking that it was an idea I’d have to scrap if it were too similar. Thankfully these two ideas are very far apart.
The Book Review
The evil Librarians are coming!
A hero with an incredible talent…for breaking things. A life-or-death mission…to rescue a bag of sand. A fearsome threat from a powerful secret network…the evil Librarians.
Alcatraz Smedry doesn’t seem destined for anything but disaster. On his 13th birthday he receives a bag of sand, which is quickly stolen by the cult of evil Librarians plotting to take over the world. The sand will give the 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 really enjoyed Sanderson’s overall premise. We are all living in the “Hushlands,” which is controlled by the evil Librarians. So everything you know to be true, is a lie. I won’t go into much more detail than that, but it comes out in some fantastic ways. It sets up the conflict really well and allows Sanderson to play against common knowledge.
This comes in primarily from how the book is presented. It is written in first person from Alcatraz Smedry’s perspective. Sanderson even goes so far as to have Alcatraz claim that the name “Brandon Sanderson” is a pseudonym and that everything in the book is true. And if the Librarians knew you had it, they’d freak.
What I found most interesting was how each Smedry has a unique talent. But these talents don’t appear useful at first. But when they come close to danger they manifest in fantastic ways. Alcatraz has the talent to break things. His grandfather, the ability to arrive late. And two cousins, where one trips and the other can only speak gibberish when in danger.
How Sanderson uses these talents for the character’s benefit is great. Primarily the grandfather. He’s able to arrive late to being shot. When he is eventually stabbed, the blood arrives late to the wound. It is these kinds of things that really separate a story like this from tales like Harry Potter.
But there are some hiccups, however.
Sanderson opted for the cliche of a boy destined for greatness. Which I think is the bulk of all YA. Maybe that is something that defines the genre. But I think it is time it was bucked. A kid can have an important impact to a story without having fate or destiny thrown onto his shoulders. Why can’t they decide that for themselves?
It feels like they don’t have much choice in the matter. That the main story happens to them. Rather than the main character seeking it out.
Another bothersome point was how every chapter, aside from one (and he really hung a lantern on it), started with an aside from Alcatraz. The previous chapter would be in the middle of some action. Then, he’d break into some random thinking and world building before jumping back into the story at hand.
This broke the flow. I would have preferred to see him sprinkle these asides throughout the chapter and keep the pace up. I’m not quite sure why he did it that way. But it didn’t work for me.
What I think hurts the most is that I wasn’t drawn to Alcatraz as a character. I believe it comes from the fact that he has the “chosen one” syndrome. I wanted him to be more active in the story rather than being drug along. He was an orphan that discovered he has a grandfather and then meets a bunch of his cousins. And has an “oh cool” attitude about it. Then trots along behind them on an adventure.
This is some weighty stuff for a kid to deal with. And the nonchalant attitude Alcatraz has to it doesn’t fit with me. Yes, there is a bit of naval gazing about it all and dealing with the fact he has a family. But it just felt too easy.
Overall though I enjoyed it. At 308 pages it was a fast read. And knowing Sanderson’s ability to write quickly, I’m sure this one was a breeze to him.
I don’t see myself picking up the rest of series, however. Probably because of how I feel about Alcatraz himself. Perhaps if he was more dynamic, then I’d go into the next book ready to root him on. Perhaps I’ll give them a try once I’ve gone through my backlog of books.
That won’t take long, right? Write.