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Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

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I have to admit, the title alone sold me on this book. Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. I just couldn’t pass it up. Then when I looked at the strange cover, I was definitely hooked. I had it in my hands and just couldn’t put it back on the shelf.

Brandon Sanderson has taken the fiction world by storm, it seems. He rolled out for fantasy novels for adults in quick succession, a standalone book followed by a trilogy, then somehow found time to start writing a YA series on the side. Obviously, the author has a lot of stories to tell, and thankfully at least four of them will be about Alcatraz Smedry and his wonderfully wacky family. Oh, and the Evil Librarians as well.

The book begins as many of the YA fantasy novels do these days: with an orphan who possesses a strange destiny and powers to achieve it. Only with Alcatraz, the power doesn’t seem all that marvelous or even desirable. He breaks things. All kinds of things. Once, he claims, he even broke a chicken. Nothing appears to be beyond his power.

On his 13th birthday, Alcatraz receives a birthday present from the father he believed dead for nearly all of those years. Since that time, Alcatraz has lived in one foster home after another, never getting close to anyone because he always manages to break something. Weirdly, the package appears to have been floating around through the postal service for years, just waiting till his 13th birthday. I was pretty much interested by this time, but I was even more captivated when the birthday present turned out to be a bag of sand.

After burning down his current foster parents’ kitchen — she’s a chef and loves to cook — Alcatraz prepares himself to once more be picked up and carted off to the next set of parents. If anyone will have him. I couldn’t help but feel concerned about Alcatraz at this point, but as you read, you’ll see that Alcatraz isn’t worried at all. His strange point of view is one of the most endearing aspects of his character.

Instead of the foster care people, his grandfather arrives. Before Alcatraz can find out why his grandfather has been missing in action all these years, an assassin shows up and tries to kill them. Not only that, but someone has stolen his birthday bag of sand. And Grandfather Smedry insists the fate of the world rests on figuring out where the sand has gone and finding out how to get it back.

With all these balls comfortably in the air, Sanderson starts juggling like mad, putting together a compelling first-person narrative complete with wit and sarcasm, a blistering pace filled with tons of action and more weird magic that tumbles freely across his imagined landscape.

My son and wife put me on to this book because both enjoyed the audio version during a summer trip. They came back regaling me about every adventure Alcatraz had. Well, almost. There were so many things that they couldn’t remember them all. Thankfully, that meant a lot of the book was still new and fresh to me — and had plenty of twists and turns I didn't see coming.

This is one of those wonderful books that is meant to be read out loud. Provided you know your way around dry sarcasm. The second book is out, and the third is scheduled to be published soon. If you’re missing Harry Potter but would like to share something new and different with your kids, or just read it for yourself, I’d like to recommend the series.

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