Saturday, July 7, 2018

Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens

Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens
by Brandon Sanderson
Recommended Ages: 10+

In the fourth installment of "Alcatraz Versus," a boy who only recently traveled for the first time to the Free Kingdoms (the part of the world that isn't secretly ruled by Evil Librarians) unexpectedly becomes king, for a day or so, of an entire kingdom. Unfortunately, that kingdom is about to fall, and fall hard, unless Alcatraz Smedry can figure out a way to use the powers he is still struggling to understand, while also leading the defending forces of a city under siege.

Now, the first thing you have to understand is that the city's primary defense is a great big glass dome. All right? Next, wrap your brain around the fact that the army includes a bunch of giant, rock-throwing robot librarians. Here's a third thing: Alcatraz's mother, a devious Librarian herself, shows up just when the conflict is at its hottest. At a certain point, everyone tells Alcatraz that the Mokians must give up to survive. Only he knows a way to turn giving up into winning.

It's all part of the Smedry magic, which includes such goofy magical powers as breaking things, arriving late, getting lost and being bad at math. After only a few short months in command of his powers, Alcatraz has learned things about the Smedry talents that nobody has ever thought about before. But does he have time to learn things that his mom and dad know, either one of which could destroy the world he loves? That's the poser that keeps the pages turning, leading to what I reckon to be the most spectacular climax in the series so far. Meantime, as the fourth-wall-breaking narrator of his own story, Alcatraz continues to tease, play around, torture the reader, and guide him or her across new horizons of thought. Bonus credit goes to the reader who figures out what's up with the numbering of the chapters in this book.

Don't let the cornball comedy and light touch of youthful romance throw you off. Beneath the layers of mockery and unadulterated silliness, this book and the series it belongs to teem with legitimately brilliant fantasy conceits. I almost want to blurt out the phrase "world-building," although in a way, it takes place in part of our world. It just happens to be a previously unknown, secret, and stupendously weird part of our world. There are moments of truth and honesty in it that pop like a subcutaneous thermometer out of a store-bought turkey. (Practice food safety, folks.) For example, there's the scene in which the king of Mokia admits that grass huts aren't really more advanced than houses of wood, steel or brick. There's also a hint that, in spite of Alcatraz's continued development as a hero, there's a real chance that all will end in tragedy. Maybe that will happen in Book 5, The Dark Talent.

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