This review may contain mild spoilers for the previous books in the ALCATRAZ series.
Fans of Brandon Sanderson’s ALCATRAZ VS THE EVIL LIBRARIANS series have been waiting for six years for book five, The Dark Talent (2016), which was finally published a couple of months ago by Starscape (Tor’s children’s imprint). Recorded books brought back Ramon de Ocampo for the audio version that was released at the same time. As I mentioned in my review of the previous book, The Shattered Lens, it’s hard to know which one to recommend because Starscape’s hardback version has wonderful illustrations by Hayley Lazo, but the audio version is superbly narrated and extremely entertaining. Let’s just say that I’m glad I have both.
So, at the end of The Shattered Lens, Alcatraz learned some surprising information that completely shifted his worldview by about 180 degrees and, just as he was finally getting comfortable in the Free Kingdoms, he has to go back to the Hushlands (our world). He needs to get to The Library of Congress so he can (1) find the antidote to the sleeping sickness that has put a lot of people into a coma and (2) stop one of his family members from acquiring some information that has the potential to destroy the world. Unfortunately he has to do this without his breaking talent (he broke all the talents in the last book) and without his faithful body guard Bastille (she is one of the people in a coma).
I probably don’t need to be writing a review for The Dark Talent. Anyone who’s read the previous books knows whether or not they want to read this one. The Dark Talent does not disappoint — fans will continue to enjoy the zany humor and the metafictional aspect of the series. In The Dark Talent, most of the chapters have people names (e.g., Doug, Norton, Melissa) and Alcatraz, who warns us that he has just learned to use footnotes, uses them rather excessively. One funny footnote, which is an entire page long, lists all the ways he hopes not to die and includes:
…falling into the sun, catching malaria, being forced to watch too many Korean soap operas, getting in a car wreck, being hit by a bus, dysentery, tuberculosis, consumption (in case they’re different), having a piano fall on me, being forced to go back in time and accidentally killing my own great-great-grandfather in a clichéd science fiction action sequence, getting mauled by a feral T. rex, snakebite…. being drawn and quartered, hanging, crucifixion, being fed to lions, anything else the Romans did to people… heat death of the universe, almonds, electrocution, suffocation, running with scissors, accidental grenade ingestion, being sucked up a tornado, Avada Kedavra, being sued by J.K. Rowling, bee sting, Sting beating… being eaten be a sentient romance novel, quicksand, explosive diarrhea, really *any* kind of diarrhea… accidentally putting something metal in the microwave.
(If you can’t stand this type of humor, you probably didn’t make it through the first ALCATRAZ book and you probably aren’t reading this review.) There is some humor for adults, too, and some SFF in-jokes including funny swipes at Yoda and at Stephenie Meyer.
Fans will also be happy that the British dinosaurs are back! But what they’ll be most happy about is learning that The Dark Talent is not the last ALCATRAZ book. It appears to be the penultimate book.
The ALCATRAZ series would make a great gift for middle graders. Again, I thought the audio performance by Ramon de Ocampo was fabulous, but there are some things you’re going to miss if you don’t read these books in print. One is Hayley Lazo’s wonderful art. Another is cute metafictional bits like this from The Dark Talent:
“Let me guess,” I said. “Nobody knows where he was buried.”
“Yes, yes, Draulin.”
“Can we get off the floor?”
“If you want to be boring, I suppose.”
“I personally would like to know how to spit well.”
The other two looked at me as we stood up — because yes, we’d had that entire conversation under the table and so what? — and Grandpa frowned at me. “What did you say?”
“Sorry,” I said. “I just wanted to make a sentence that was a little bit longer than what you’d said, so the conversation will look cool on the page when I write it down.”
I’m looking forward to the next ALCATRAZ book. I hope I don’t have to wait for six more years.
Alcatraz — (2007-2016) Ages 9-12. Publisher: A hero with an incredible talent… for breaking things. A life-or-death mission… to rescue a bag of sand. A fearsome threat from a powerful secret network… the evil Librarians. Alcatraz Smedry doesn’t seem destined for anything but disaster. On his 13th birthday he receives a bag of sand, which is quickly stolen by the cult of evil Librarians plotting to take over the world. The sand will give the Librarians the edge they need to achieve world domination. Alcatraz must stop them!… by infiltrating the local library, armed with nothing but eyeglasses and a talent for klutziness. Alcatraz’s ability to break things, he soon learns, is actually a Talent. Alcatraz must learn to use his Talent as he goes after the sands with a team of resistors, including Grandpa Smedry (Talent: “I have the ability to arrive late to things”… including arriving late to pain, or to his own death), Sing Smedry (Talent: “I can trip and fall to the ground”…avoiding injury in surprise attacks), Quentin Smedry (Talent: “I can say things that make absolutely no sense whatsoever”… if captured, he speaks nonsense instead of spilling secrets), and Bastille (a girl Alcatraz’s age, who is a knight charged with protecting Grandpa Smedry. Bastille has no Talent, but she’s got spunk, skill, and spark to spare). Together they must defeat a Dark Oculator and retrieve the magical lenses smelted from the sand, which allow Alcatraz to read The Forgotten Language, a previously indecipherable text — including a message from his long-lost father, who may not be dead after all…