This review may contain mild spoilers for the previous books in the ALCATRAZ series.
The Shattered Lens (2010) is the fourth book in Brandon Sanderson’s hilarious middle-grade series called ALCATRAZ VS THE EVIL LIBRARIANS. The first four books were originally published by Scholastic but Starscape (Tor’s young readers imprint) has recently re-issued the series in lovely hardback editions illustrated by Hayley Lazo. The long-awaited fifth volume, The Dark Talent, has also just been published by Starscape. They sent me all the books and they are gorgeous. My daughters love them and I’ve been recommending them to friends looking for gifts for young readers.
You need to start at the beginning of the ALCATRAZ series (with Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians) to appreciate it properly. At this point in the story, Alcatraz and Bastille (who are both 13 years old) are going to the kingdom of Mokia to try to save it from a sect of the Evil Librarians known as The Shattered Glass. It’s going to be a tough fight because the librarians have an army of giant robots. Alcatraz will have to go up against his own evil mother and will have to make some big decisions that will affect a large number of people. He will have some help from the usual Smedry clan, including a newly met relative whose Smedry talent is that she’s bad at math.
As usual, Alcatraz’s story is extremely silly and far-fetched. Most of the minor characters are shallowly portrayed and you shouldn’t expect the sort of realism and believability that allows you to get lost in the story. I’m not sure, though, that the story is really the point. Instead, I suspect that Brandon Sanderson is using this series to engage children by including them in the writing process. The narrative is self-aware and metafictional — Sanderson never lets you forget he’s there. My 14 year old daughter found this delightful and we laughed together many times while reading The Shattered Lens.
For example, the chapter numbers are not in order. The book starts with Chapter 2 (which is about exploding teddy bears) because Alcatraz lost the first chapter. The next chapter is Chapter 6 because Chapters 3,4, and 5 are boring. There’s also a Chapter 8675309. (The chapters are done this way so that if a librarian reads Alcatraz’s book, their head will explode.) Alcatraz encourages his audience to act out the chapters as they read them, which is silly but funny, especially when he ends up running naked through a war zone and then, on the last page of the book, makes the readers who read the last page first punish themselves. It all sounds really juvenile, which it is, but there are plenty of jokes that adults will enjoy (such as the Princess Bride quotes), and parents will appreciate the way that Sanderson makes writing seem like so much fun.
At the end of The Shattered Lens, Alcatraz learns some important information about the Smedry talent and about both of his parents. He has a major shift in worldview and learns some important lessons in the process.
As I mentioned above, Starscape sent me the new hardback edition illustrated by Hayley Lazo. I loved it. But I also have a copy of the audio version (Recorded Books) read by Ramon De Ocampo which I also loved. I’m torn about which one to recommend if you’re (like most rational people) only willing to buy one copy. My preference is the audio, I guess, but if you don’t have the print version, you’ll miss the drawing of a psychopathic kitten carving a pumpkin…
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…