Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians.jpgThis is the second time I read this book.

I have a… troubled relationship with Sanderson’s books. On the one hand I love his Stormlight Archive. The Way of Kings was a seminal work of fantasy and Words of Radiance turned it up to eleven and turned out better than I could ever have imagined. I love the complexity and the clues that he plants in his prose. I love how he has improved over time. I love the Cosmere and the complexity of all the worlds that he is building there.

I love the way he can teach me things about his world and then twist them in just the right way.

That brings me to things that I don’t love. I’m not a fan of his humor. Don’t get me wrong. In a book like The Way of Kings some attempts at humor had to be made in order for the book to not sink into total darkness. My problem is Sanderson’s sense humor is that cheesy kind of humor that is only used by dads on their kids (I do it too, I’m not above that, and in certain contexts it’s funny). He seems to love puns — which totally don’t work for me in a fantasy where people are supposed to be speaking not-English.

That brings me to Alcatraz. This book is intended to be humorous in a farcical kind of way. And it is. The unfortunate thing is that it is Sanderson humor which, for me, just always falls a little bit flat. It’s like he always goes for the easy punchline, always picks the low hanging fruit. That’s not to say it’s not funny. It is. Sanderson’s usual display of inventiveness is in full force here and he never passes up an opportunity to show it off. Even the premise of the book is humorous. The problem is that all the jokes come out as a little too easy.

I don’t study humor so I don’t know a lot about what the problem is here but I’ve heard people talk about humor and I know that usually what makes people laugh is the unexpected response, the surprising outcome. I feel like, once Sanderson sets up the amusing ideas for this strange world he never gets too surprising with the humor, it’s always a little funny but never really funny.

That’s not really a problem. It’s a strange book. The narrator, Alcatraz Smedry frequently interrupts the narrative to explain to people that he is a terrible person. He also complains about people interrupting the narrative and about authors and the writing life. This is obviously Sanderson having fun with his book and it feels fun. Just not particularly funny.

My son thought it was too scary but he’s a bit younger than the intended audience. I found it enjoyable and readable and I’m planning on reading the rest of the series some day. If I ever get around to it.


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