Fiction Reviews

The Complete Alcatraz

(2012) Brandon Sanderson, Gollancz, trdpbk, £16.99, 759pp, ISBN 978-0-575-13134-7


This is a collected edition of a young adult series. As the story opens, Alcatraz Semdry has been bounced around from foster home to foster home, because of his habit of breaking things without even trying. About to be returned to the home, on his thirteenth birthday, he receives a bag of sand through the post, with a note from his parents saying that it is his inheritance. The bag is taken by his caseworker, Ms Fletcher. The next day, Alcatraz receives a visit from his grandfather. An attempt on his life is made because the Semdry family is involved in the Free Kingdoms in resisting the march of the Librarian forces. The Librarians already control our world, covering up the knowledge of Free Kingdoms and the powers of glass and lenses. Each member of the Semdry family has special talents such as being late, tripping, being lost or bad at maths. Alcatraz has the talent of breaking things. One of the highlights of this book is the way that Sanderson is able to make superpowers out of things that would seem to be not much use.

Over the four books in this omnibus, Alcatraz meets more members of his family and returns to the Free Kingdoms in journey that also takes in the Library of Alexander and an attempt to find his parents and prevent the Librarians gaining greater power. He meets Bastille, a girl knight his own age who is supposed to help him stay alive, due to the family trait to recklessly run into danger and is not too pleased at this.

This volume contains the titles, Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians, Alcatraz versus the Scrivener’s Bones, Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia and Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens. All of this are narrated by Alcatraz, who is entertainingly self-deprecating and witty when talking to the reader, if they are in the Librarian controlled-world. There are great literary jokes and references going from Harry Potter and Plato to ‘Hamlet’ and ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’. There is also some great playing around with the structure of the text as well.

While this is another story about a young person discovering that he is a chosen one to fight against the forces of darkness, it does start making it more complex with character motivations and responsibilities. The world that Sanderson creates is magical, exciting and joyfully absurd at the same time.

The only real drawback is that the series is not contained within this volume, with one more book to go that is yet to be published. However this is an entertaining read with lots of invention and humour. It may not appeal to all of its target market and reach Harry Potter levels, but I would have loved this when I was ten. It will definitely find a devoted audience who will quote it in years to come. If you are looking for a present for younger family members, I certainly recommend it.

David Allkins

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