The Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson
My 13 year old daughter Tali and I are enjoying reading Brandon Sanderson’s ALCATRAZ series together. We thought the first installment, Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, was clever and funny and I particularly liked how Sanderson had his first-person narrator (Alcatraz) explaining the literary techniques he’s using as he writes his autobiography. This was amusing as well as instructive.
The second book, The Scrivener’s Bones (the book formerly known as Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones), picks up soon after the events of the first book (which you really need to read for maximum enjoyment, though Alcatraz quickly recaps events while occasionally teasing those annoying readers who have just tuned in without reading the first book first). Alcatraz is sitting in an airport eating chips, one at a time, and explaining how this is not a good way to start a story, when bad guys show up and the action suddenly erupts and doesn’t slow down until the end of the book.
Alcatraz and his friends get a tip that they need to go to the Library of Alexandria to find something important. (Despite what you have heard from the Evil Librarians who control all knowledge in the world we live in, the Library of Alexandria did not actually burn down.) This is not a normal library. The curators are ghostly skeletons who will claim your soul if you remove any scroll or book from its shelf. Alcatraz must find what he needs in the library without losing his soul. By the end of the story, he has learned a lot about himself, his Talent, and the parents he doesn’t know.
The Scrivener’s Bones is just as much fun as the first book was. I thought by now that Alcatraz’s intrusive style of narration would start to annoy me, but instead I find it quite entertaining, especially when I’m reading it with my daughter:
If it makes you feel better, Bastille dies by the end of this book. Oh, you didn’t want to hear that? I’m sorry. You’ll just have to forget that I wrote it. There are several convenient ways to do that. I hear hitting yourself on the head with a blunt object can be very effective. You should try using one of Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novels. They’re big enough, and goodness knows, that’s really the only useful thing to do with them.
As I said in my review of the previous book, though the story is whimsical, it’s not shallow. Alcatraz makes mistakes and has to suffer the consequences, has prejudices and realizes he’s wrong, worries about the future, feels incompetent to be a leader, and learns various important life lessons.
Something major happens near the conclusion of The Scrivener’s Bones. It’s a game-changer. Then there’s a hilarious scene at the end. It’s hard to imagine any reader who won’t want to immediately pick up book three, The Knights of Crystallia.
Tali and I experienced the new hardback version (Tor’s Starscape) and the audio version (Recorded Books) of The Scrivener’s Bones and can heartily recommend both. The hardback has some delightful black and white illustrations by Hayley Lazo. My favorites were the drawing of a curator and the drawing of the Scrivener’s Bone. The entire interior side of the dust jacket is a full color map of the Three Kingdoms. The audio version is charmingly narrated by Ramon De Ocampo who sounds exactly like you’d expect a snarky 13 year old boy to sound like. Either format is an excellent choice.
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…
Darn it! No children of the right age to share these with in my life right now! Maybe I’ll volunteer to read them at Children’s Hour or whatever it’s called at the local bookstore.
That’s a great idea! It’s a good read-aloud story and the art is really nice.