I suppose the title should have warned me. One of my book club’s recent selections was Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson. It was a departure from our usual genres. I think we were all intrigued by the idea of evil librarians.
I for one was expecting it to be a group of really awesome evil librarians. There are plenty of awesome villains out there, and a really cool group of sinister, book-wielding librarians sounds amazing.
Too bad that isn’t what this turned out to be. First thing–Alcatraz is the lead character’s name, and the book has nothing to do with the island or the prison. Second, and even more importantly–the evil librarians were a LONG way from awesome. Nor were they an isolated group. Instead, the premise of this book is that all the librarians of the world are engaged in a vast conspiracy to feed everyone misinformation. And they’re painfully stereotypical librarians, with horned-rim glasses and buns, or bad bow ties for the men.
I cannot at all fathom why anyone would write a book insulting librarians. I mean, they’re librarians! I may be particularly ill-suited for this premise, considering I have four friends who are librarians, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have an active library card. But anyone likely to be reading this book probably likes books. And if you like books, you probably like libraries and librarians–I mean, people who help you get free books, what’s not to love?
And what exactly is the message for kids here? Librarians are evil and untrustworthy, libraries are dangerous, and almost any book you might pick up is both bad and foolish? That’s the message that comes across.
Now, I do realize this book is not meant to be serious. That comes across too. But it never achieves quite that right tone of self-mocking to make it funny and not irritating. It’s trying to give the reader a nice broad wink, and failing miserably. I think it wants to be “Springtime for Hitler,” which is hilarious. This book is not.
Not to mention, it’s just badly written. Alcatraz is telling the story, and his goal is to prove that he isn’t actually a hero. Rule #1 of writing is that the reader should like your lead character. Or hate them, that works sometimes too. If your reader is irritated and/or bored, your book is dead. When your narrator states that his goal is to irritate the reader and he succeeds, there’s a problem. Every chapter starts with a page or two of totally irrelevant introduction, in which Alcatraz interrupts the plot to ramble on about whether he’s a good person, whether the reader is irritated yet (answer: YES), tries to convince us everything going on is plausible and if we don’t believe it we’re just brain-washed morons, or points out the clever literary devices he’s using, for the purpose of being annoying.
Honestly, it’s like an example in how a book should not be written.
I haven’t even mentioned the plot, have I? It’s not so bad, really. Comparatively. Alcatraz is an orphan with a talent for breaking things. One day he meets his grandfather, who tells him he’s actually a member of a famous family who has special Talents, and Alcatraz begins to learn how he can use breaking things to his advantage. His grandfather also tells him about the conspiracy of the Evil Librarians, and about an entire other society on a continent in the middle of the Pacific (knowledge of which the Evil Librarians have suppressed). They set out on a mission to rescue a bag of really special sand that the Evil Librarians have stolen.
It’s not a terrible plot. The Talents are entertaining, because they all sound like bad things (arriving late all the time) but turn out to be useful (the late person is constantly late for bullets, so he can’t be shot). I like the idea of the secret continent. I’ve often thought there was potential for a story in the idea that some basic fact is really false, but no one knows it, because how many things do we actually know from first-hand experience? How many of us have sailed across the Pacific?
It’s an okay plot in a terrible book. And about that bag of sand. The bag contains the Sands of Rashid. You can definitely say “the sands of time” and I’ll accept “the Sands of Rashid” if necessary But they keep on talking about the sands. They have to rescue the sands and they have to get the sands back and the sands are really important. “Sand” should not be plural! It got to where I wanted to scream every time they said sands.
You know, I bet a librarian could have told Sanderson that you don’t make “sand” plural.
So why did I even finish this book? Mostly because I knew that I’d be able to rant about it at Book Club and on my blog, and I figured I needed to finish it to be able to rant more effectively.
But you don’t need to. Really.