The first thing you notice about Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (aside from its eye-catching title… I mean, really, evil librarians?!) is the author blurb: “Brandon Sanderson is the pen name of Alcatraz Smedry. His Hushlander editor forced him to use a pseudonym, since these memoirs are being published as fiction. Alcatraz actually knows a person named Brandon Sanderson. That man, however, is a fantasy writer — and is therefore prone to useless bouts of delusion in literary form. Alcatraz has it on good authority that Brandon is actually illiterate and dictates his thick, overly long fantasy tomes to his potted plant, Count Duku. It is widely assumed that Brandon went mad several years ago, but few people can tell because his writing is so strange anyway. He spends his time going to science fiction movies, eating popcorn and goat cheese (separately), and trying to warn people about the dangers of the Great Kitten Conspiracy. He has had his library card revoked on seventeen different occasions.”Who could resist something like that? Not me. I devoured it, laughed uproariously, and couldn’t stop talking about it.
Alcatraz Smedry is a thirteen-year-old orphan who’s been bounced around from house to house. The reason? He keeps breaking things. (He can’t help himself.) His life takes a turn for the interesting when he gets a bag of sand on his birthday. It’s his inheritance, which is pretty weird. It doesn’t get much better: soon his grandfather shows up, babbling about the Free Kingdoms and Evil Librarians, and Alcatraz is sucked into infiltrating the downtown library in a desperate attempt to rescue the bag of sand. He just has no idea what he is in for.
Sure, there are the Harry Potter comparisons: orphan boy with great untapped power, thrown into a new world with weapons he has to learn to use, in order to fight an evil bad guy (though the evil bad guy is really a consortium of evil bad guys). There’s even horcrux-like elements, as well as an alternative reality hidden from the rest of us (Hushlanders rather than Muggles). But what really makes this book work, for me, is the tone. Alcatraz is snarky about almost everything that has to do with a book. He begins each chapter with an aside about something either to do with the plot, or writing a book (authors are not nice people; they like to torture their readers), or reading… I first thought they were cute, then they annoyed me, but eventually, I caught the tongue-in-cheek idea of it all and decided that they’re really funny, and that I liked it.
I’ve talked about humor before: how it’s an individual thing, and how what I find amusing some others might find banal or pedantic. I won’t even go so far as to say there are universal funny things. It’s all a matter of your mood, your history, your tastes… it is a bit precious — walking the line between snarky and smart-aleck — but it worked for me.
And maybe it’ll even work for you. Besides, how can you not want to read a book with an author blurb like that?