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The Complete Alcatraz
Brandon Sanderson
Gollancz, 767 pages

The Complete Alcatraz
Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson was born in 1975 in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 1994, he enrolled at Brigham Young University as a Biochemistry major. From 1995-1997 he took time away from his studies to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Upon his return, he became an English major. It was in 2003, while Brandon was in the middle of a graduate program at BYU, that he got a call from an editor at Tor who wanted to buy one of his books. In December of 2007, Harriet Rigney chose him to complete A Memory of Light, book twelve in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.

Brandon Sanderson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel
SF Site Review: The Way of Kings
SF Site Review: The Way of Kings
SF Site Review: The Gathering Storm
SF Site Review: Warbreaker, Part 1
SF Site Review: Warbreaker
SF Site Review: The Mistborn Trilogy

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

"What did you expect? That I'd leave you here all summer, in the exact place where your enemies know where to look? With people that aren't even your family? In a place you don't really like, and that is depressingly normal compared to the world you've grown to love? Doesn't that sound a little stupid and contrived to you?"
The Complete Alcatraz is, as the title suggests, an omnibus of the author's four novels in a series. The titles are, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, Alcatraz versus the Scrivener's Bones, Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia and Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens. Alcatraz Smedry is a 13 year-old foster child sent a bag of sand as his sole inheritance, only to find himself playing a pivotal role in a world that is so much more than he'd ever imagined. The sand, which is also more than it seems, is almost immediately stolen, thus beginning a chain of events leading to the young Smedry discovering he is part of a family with unique individual talents. A family at the forefront of a secret war being fought between the Free Kingdoms, and a totalitarian conspiracy known as the Librarians. It is the latter group who run the world familiar to the reader, using their iron control over all publicly available knowledge to keep us ignorant and obedient.

Like most reviewers, I write about what I read because I want to tell others about really great books. Some authors make that easy, a few make it impossible, but the smallest group are those such as Bandon Sanderson, who have produced works that in equal measure delight and disappoint. First the positives, beginning with the inventive ideas Brandon Sanderson presents. I loved the notion that there are more continents, in the vastness of the seas, than we know about. Places that are kept from our knowledge as part of a vast conspiracy. As the author puts it, how many people personally sail out into the deep ocean. We're told there's nothing but sea for thousands of miles, but what if those controlling that information, and the shipping lanes, are liars? Similarly, I found the idea of special powers based around spectacles -- or more accurately lenses -- wielded by Oculators, to be fresh and fun. Alcatraz Smedry as the American answer to Harry Potter has a certain appeal, and there is plenty of room for something original to thrive, especially as the reluctant hero of the titles goes out of his way to make sure readers are clear that he is not a nice person. Except, he really is quite a pleasant chap, and does the right thing without it ever seeming like he might prefer to look out for number one. But the major problem I had with this series was the author's style of writing. Early on he seemed to have a serious aversion to the use of pronouns, instead having Alcatraz refer to his grandfather almost exclusively as Grandpa Smedry, sometimes twice in the same sentence. Indeed, the name came up so many times on early pages, its incessant use became more than a little irritating. It may be that the author was trying to replicate how he thinks 13 year-old boys speak, but really, how many children of any age refer to their grandparents by their surnames. Also grating rather badly was the author's decision to have his main character tell the story in first person, from the perspective of having already lived through it all. Any illusion that he might not overcome the considerable difficulties with which he was faced was therefore instantly dispelled.

Others may come to an entirely different conclusion, and the author certainly has readers in huge numbers, but I ended up feeling that the ideas promised more than their execution delivered. Brandon Sanderson is certainly not shy of blowing his own trumpet -- he describes himself as writing epic novels -- and, as some readers will know, was 'the chosen one' picked to complete Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. There are some really interesting ideas here, but the author bundles most of them into the background, in favour of lacklustre humour, less than stellar characterisation, and a slightly patronising narrative which has a nasty habit of torpedoing dramatic tension. I think today's young readers, especially the post-Potter crowd, want more than that and hold authors to a higher standard. I may be in a small minority, but I have to be honest and say that I found The Complete Alcatraz to be an okay read, rather than the great work that I'd hoped it might be.

Copyright © 2013 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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