Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson, or Author’s Notes to Way of Kings


Read August 2016
Recommended for librarians, fans of Lemony Snicket and Artemis Fowl
 ★     ★     ★     

Also known as The Official Author’s Notes for The Way of Kings.

Stay with me.

The first clue is in Chapter 2. “I’ve been many things in my life. Student. Spy. Sacrifice. Potted plant. However, at this point, I’m something completely different from all of those–something more frightening than any of them. I’m a writer.”

He gives structural tips (and a hint as to his personality):
“You may have noticed that I began my story with a quick, snappy scene of danger and tension–but then quickly moved on to a more boring discussion of my childhood. Well, that’s because I wanted to prove something to you: that I’m not a nice person.”

He boldly states how he would like you to read:
“I would ask you to kindly refrain from drawing conclusions that I don’t explicitly tell you to make. That’s a very bad habit, and it makes authors grumpy.”

Unsurprisingly, he trumpets the importance of his work:
“Remember, despite the fact that this book is being sold as a ‘fantasy’ novel, you must take all of the things it says extremely seriously, as they are quite important, are in no way silly, and always make sense.”

He explains his plot devices to engage the reader:
“I’ve worked very hard–perhaps I will explain why later–to frustrate you. One of the ways I do this is by leaving cliff hangers at the ends of chapters. These sorts of things force you, the reader, to keep on plunging through my story.”
He does this despite further elaboration that a hook at the beginning of a book is an ‘unexcusable’ trick, and that “I have it on good authority that when an author gives a hook like this, he isn’t ever likely to explain why…and, if the explanation does come, it won’t arrive until the end of the story.”

Ultimately, he expresses his writing goal, which should have been quite obvious if you follow the Way of Kings ten book series, now up to book two: “Authors write books for one, and only one reason: because we like to torture people.” He continues: “Authors also create lovable, friendly characters–then proceed to do terrible things to them… This makes readers feel hurt and worried for the characters. The simple truth is that authors like making people squirm.”

Given my concerns with Way of Kings, I appreciated his notes regarding time in novels: “Three chapters is an awfully long time in book terms. You see, time moves differently in novels. The author could, for instance, say, “And I spent fourteen years in prison….” Now this sounds like it would be a great deal of time–fourteen years–but it actually only took one sentence to explain. So, therefore, it happened very quickly. Three chapters, on the other hand, is a very long time.”

And a final bon mot on pacing:
“Now, if you are ever writing a story such as this, you should know something. Never interrupt the flow of a good action scene by interjecting needless explanations. I did this once, in Chapter Fourteen of an otherwise very exciting story. I regret it to this day.”

I tell you, I gained tremendous insight into The Way of Kings.

But I know what you are going to say:

I read it wrong.

P.S. I really enjoyed the polite dinosaurs.

(view spoiler)

So, a real review, you ask? Why are you asking me? You should read Sanderson yourself, because I’m quite sure I’m going to mislead you by reading it wrong. I enjoy many younger-adult targeted books, so don’t think me an old curmudgeon when I say he doesn’t quite nail the premise. It is vaguely amusing when he mocks many of the genre pretenses (particularly a bold call-out to the Harry Potter set-up at the end), but there’s too much of it throughout the narrative and I’m not sure it’ll sit well with younger readers. Really much, much too much of the overt commentary. When I started writing my meta-review (thanks, Mitticus!), I actually had to leave out some more author in-text comments on character and pacing. John Connolly’s Samuel Johnson series plays with this concept in a more sophisticated, enjoyable way way.

In this book, Alcatraz is about to be kicked out of his umpteenth foster home for burning down the kitchen on his 13th birthday. Someone calling himself his grandfather shows up the next day (much like Hagrid in Harry Potter) and suddenly someone is trying to kill him. Classic special-but-in-an-unrecognized-way set-up. They head to the library to infiltrate the headquarters and recover Alcatraz’ special birthday present–a bag of sand. Fun things include the premise of Librarians being Evil, and running jokes about the gentility of dinosaurs. However, Alcatraz also has a anti-hero narrative in the mode of Artemis Fowl that is off-putting. It’s too much tongue-in-cheek; what, exactly, are we supposed to take seriously here? The finale was disappointing, particularly with another big reveal for Alcatraz (really, when is enough enough)?

Overall, I’d say it was middle-of the road. I’ll throw out the idea that Sanderson just is… odd about female characters. Like he’s trying too hard and just ends up doing reverse stereotypes. The Evil Librarians are the best concept behind the book, and the humorous tone is cute. Aside from that, it lacks the inventiveness of Potter and the Girl Who… series, the language playfulness of Valente and Snicket, the commitment to devilishness of Aretemis and the cleverness of Connolly. Most importantly, I just don’t feel the emotional truth it needs. Would I pick up the next book? Sure. Would I give it to a future niece? Nah.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, fantasy, Urban fantasy, young adult and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson, or Author’s Notes to Way of Kings

  1. abigail says:

    As someone who has worked in a library, I’m a little sad to know that the book lacks heart. The Evil Librarian trope is so far from the truth (in my experience, librarians are very nice people) that I can’t help but love it.

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