Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians
The Alcatraz books are Brandon’s series of Middle Grade (5th–7th grade) fantasy books released by Scholastic Press. Brandon intends to write five books in the series, though only four were commissioned by Scholastic. Gollancz complied these four books into an omnibus in 2013 (Many of our store links head to the omnibus because the individual books can be hard to find). This page will serve as an introduction to both the first book and the series as a whole.
From the author of the Mistborn series and a master of contemporary fantasy comes a collection of his four-book Alcatraz series, the tale of a small group of freedom fighters operating against the cult of Evil Librarians.
On his 13th birthday, Alcatraz, a foster child, gets a bag of sand in the mail which purports to be his “inheritance” sent from his father and mother. The Librarians, of course, immediately steal the bag of sand from him. This sparks a chain of events which leads Alcatraz to realize that his family is part of a group of freedom fighters who resist the Evil Librarians—the secret cult who actually rule the world. Alcatraz’s grandfather shows up and tows him off to infiltrate the downtown library to steal back the mystical bag of sand. The ensuing story involves talking dinosaurs, sentient romance novels, and a dungeon-like labyrinth hiding beneath the innocent-looking downtown library. With a seductive mix of offbeat humor, high adventure, and endearing characterization, this is a fantasy that will appeal to all lovers of the fantastical.
ALCATRAZ stands out among my works. It’s the oddball: It was published by a children’s publisher, rather than by Tor. It’s 300 pages long with large font, rather than 500+ pages long with tiny font. It’s humorous, rather than dramatic. It’s written in the first person, rather than the third person.
The book began, essentially, as a free-write based on what became the first line: “So, there I was, tied to an altar made from out-dated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians.” I wrote the book between Mistborn 2 and Mistborn 3, and was driven to do so because I wanted to try something new. I’d been working so hard on the Mistborn books that I needed a break.
So, it might not be very surprising that I wrote something completely different in tone from the Mistborn novels. Not that a lot of the trademarks of my style aren’t here. There’s a unique magic system (two, actually). Some detailed world-building. A fast-paced ending. However, there’s also a whole lot of snark. I (through the voice of Alcatraz, the protagonist) often address the reader directly, talking about things I find funny about being a writer, about the fantasy genre, or about literature in general.
The book is intended to be a light-hearted action adventure book with fantasy elements. The publisher places it for ages eight through thirteen, but I’d personally target it at ages ten and up. It follows the adventures of a kid named Alcatraz Smedry. On his thirteenth birthday, Alcatraz—a foster child—gets a bag of sand in the mail which purports to be his ‘inheritance’ sent from his father and mother. The Librarians, of course, immediately steal the bag of sand from him.
This sparks a chain of events which leads Alcatraz to realize that his family is part of a group of freedom fighters who resist the Evil Librarians—the secret cult who actually rule the world. Alcatraz’s grandfather shows up and tows him off to infiltrate the downtown library to steal back the mystical bag of sand. The ensuing story involves talking dinosaurs, sentient romance novels, and a dungeon-like labyrinth hiding beneath the innocent-looking downtown library.
If you haven’t given this book a try, I’d heartily suggest it. I love epic fantasy, and don’t intend to ever stop writing it. However, sometimes we all need a diversion toward something more light-hearted. I think you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll enjoy taking a spin with Alcatraz and his insane family.
This is an excellent choice to read aloud to the whole family. It’s funny, exciting, and briskly paced. Best of all, the message it gives young readers is that a person’s flaws—being late, breaking things, etc.—can sometimes turn into useful talents.
Enough originality to engage fans of the Baudelaire children’s adventures as well as other tween readers with a taste for quirky stories.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sanderson unexpectedly draws everything together in an extravagantly silly climax. Readers whose sense of humor runs toward the subversive will be instantly captivated. Like Lemony Snicket and superhero comics rolled into one (and then revved up on steroids), this nutty novel . . . [is] also sure to win passionate fans.
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
The conventional trappings of the middle-school fantasy get turned upside down in this zany novel. . . . the adventures [are] engaging, as well as silly. Readers who prefer fantasy with plenty of humor should enjoy entering Alcatraz’s strange but amusing world.
School Library Journal
In this original, hysterical homage to fantasy literature, Sanderson’s first novel for youth recalls the best in Artemis Fowl and A Series of Unfortunate Events. The humor, although broad enough to engage preteens, is also sneakily aimed at adults. Readers are indeed tortured, with quirky, seemingly incompetent heroes; dastardly villains fond of torture; cars that drive themselves; nonstop action; and cliffhanger chapter endings. And as soon as they finish the last wickedly clever page, they will be standing in line for more from this seasoned author of such adult-marketed titles as Elantris.
Genuinely funny . . . plenty here to enjoy.
The twists are particularly amusing and inventive . . . the characters are delightfully done and the balance of humor and adventure is managed exceedingly well. I would mind seeing Alcatraz return again, perhaps to battle Perfidious Publishers or Wicked Waitresses or Malevolent Mailmen.
A happily action-packed romp, with just the right amount of repartee between Alcatraz and his cantankerous teenage protector Bastille, and a cliffhanger ending that promises more of the same. Plus dinosaurs in tweed vests. Who could ask for more?
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians is a fun-filled adventure for young readers. The wildly imaginative Sanderson, who has written two fantasies for adults, includes such creative details . . . Though kids will love his story, be sure to tell them it has no basis in fact—librarians could never be information-hoarding villains!
BookSite.com (Notable Title)
This clever book rushes through an adventure that resembles ALICE IN WONDERLAND in its oddness. Author Brandon Sanderson has pulled together almost everything that would appeal to readers of the Harry Potter series. I especially recommend ALCATRAZ VERSUS THE EVIL LIBRARIANS to fourth- and fifth-grade readers who enjoy peculiar adventures mixed with fantasy and a little sentimental reuniting of loved ones.Kidsread.com
It just worked for me. It was funny. While it’s geared towards the middle-school boy crowd, I think there are a lot of adults who’ll get a huge kick out of it. Definitely try it on teen and tween fans of Artemis Fowl, Terry Pratchett and older fans of the Chet Gecko series. I am totally looking forward to the next one.
Bookshelves of Doom
This interview with the BiblioFiles at Princeton University about the Alcatraz series is about 25 minutes long and was recorded around the release of ALCATRAZ 3. Check it out HERE!. ( It’s near the bottom so make sure to scroll down.)