Have you ever seen a book with so improbable a title that you thought it must be good? (Not that such titles are any guarantee – some authors come up with great ideas but don’t manage to turn them into great books.) I was at the library with my 9-year-old son yesterday, browsing the rack marked “New Children’s Fiction” while he looked for yet another Goosebumps book to check out. I don’t mind his reading Goosebumps (as long as it’s not right before bedtime, as he then has trouble getting to sleep), but I thought I might be lucky and find a new book that would interest him just as much.
What I found was Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones. That was the title so improbable that I decided it was worth a look. When I looked at the back flyleaf, and read that Brandon Sanderson is not actually the real author of this book but a fantasy writer who agreed to have his name on the front cover to confuse the Librarian Agents, I decided it was definitely worth reading. But from the back cover I realized it was a sequel, so I also found and checked out Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians.
Amazon.com identifies the reading level as age 9-12, which would make me at least 35 years too old to be reading it. But every now and then it’s a lot of fun to read a good children’s book, and this one is the most fun I’ve read in a long time. Alcatraz Smedry, the narrator and supposed author (using Brandon Sanderson as a penname), claims that writers are mean, and that they write books to annoy people (he takes care to point out several times how he has deliberately given tantalizing hints and then not explained them, and put cliffhangers at the end of most chapters), but he only makes the book more enjoyable in the process.
Too many of the children’s books I’ve seen published recently seem to be trying to imitate the style – and success – of the Harry Potter books. The bookstores teem with young wizards, dragons, and other magical creatures and adventures. Nothing wrong with any of that, in my opinion – but the fact that they all appear within a few years of Rowlings’ big success points to something other than a mass outbreak of original ideas about boys who suddenly discover they are wizards.
I have to admit that Alcatraz does have some things in common with Harry Potter. He has never known his parents, has been raised in foster homes by people who do not want him to stay, and on a particular birthday something happens that changes his life. He discovers he has a special power, and that – hidden from the ordinary people he has grown up among – there are multitudes of people with special powers.
That’s about where the similarities end, however, and Sanderson’s – oops, I mean Alcatraz Smedry’s story is highly original. How many books have you read where the narrator is at pains to convince you that he is not a nice person? Where there are entire continents, here on our Earth, that are completely unknown to most people, because the people who control the flow of information don’t want you to know about them?
In the Harry Potter books, it is the wizarding community that attempts to keep its own existence a secret from the Muggles (non-magical people). But here, the people in places like the U.S. are kept ignorant by their own Librarians. After all, most of what we (think we) know is learned from books, TV, and computers. How much do we really know that we haven’t been told by someone else? And we know there are places in the world where people are fed a constant stream of misinformation by their own leaders, to keep them from questioning the truth of what they have been taught.
Would you believe that magic really exists, not just in stories but in Kingdoms you know nothing about? (Of course, except for their personal Talents, which are based in genetics, what would appear to us to be magic is simply advanced technology to them.) That dinosaurs are not extinct, were not huge or dangerous, but wear clothes and speak with a British accent? That libraries are not places for searching out truth but for strict control of information, as well as the base of operations for the (evil) Librarians?
Of course not. The Librarians have indoctrinated you too well to consider such possibilities. And they will do their best to make sure you never get your hands on this book to find out the truth.