Alcatraz Smedry has successfully defeated the army of Evil Librarians and saved the kingdom of Mokia. Too bad he managed to break the Smedry Talents in the process. Even worse, his father is trying to enact a scheme that could ruin the world, and his friend, Bastille, is in a coma. To revive her, Alcatraz must infiltrate the Highbrary–known as The Library of Congress to Hushlanders–the seat of Evil Librarian power. Without his Talent to draw upon, can Alcatraz figure out a way to save Bastille and defeat the Evil Librarians once and for all?
The Dark Talent is the fifth and latest book in Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians series. It comes after a gap of six years between book four and book five, but combined with the new editions of the first four books, it’s a perfect time to allow new readers to discover the series. The book delivers on the opening scene of the first book and, as such, closes off the arc in this quintet, but hopefully doesn’t signal the ending of Alcatraz’s story.
With each book the stakes were raised, both in terms of the conflict on a larger scale and on a personal level for Alcatraz; in The Dark Talent the stakes are the highest yet, with both the future of the world and Bastille’s life on the line. And even though Alcatraz keeps telling us that things will turn out a certain way (for example that Bastille will be fine) and that he is even writing this autobiography means that he survives — so there is a happy ending, right? — Sanderson has been planting the notion of Alcatraz as an unreliable narrator so firmly, that you never feel that anyone or even the outcome is safe.
After Heraclitus, Socrates, and Plutarch in the previous books, Sanderson chooses another classical Greek writer as a focus for Alcatraz’s main ponderings at the start of each chapter. This time he choses Aesop and his fables as a lens through which to consider the nature of storytelling and the way we use it to shape our reality and how it in turn is shaped by reality. If we don’t like what happened in a certain situation, we can slightly alter the way we retell it — to ourselves or others — so that we end up remembering it the way that makes us happier, not the way it actually happened. I also liked that Sanderson incorporated the gap between the publication of book four and five in the foreword, where Alcatraz explains it away by saying he just wanted to avoid describing the events in the book, because he didn’t want to face the memories.
Bastille might be out for most of the book — after the sleep dart that hit her put her into a coma in the last book — but her presence heavily infuses the narrative, since Alcatraz often quotes her or mentions her and once again Bastille gets to insert her opinions into the book through Hayley Lazo’s amazing illustrations. In place of Bastille ,we get to see far more of her mother Draulin and of Alcatraz’s mother Shasta. I really liked the dynamic between Shasta and Alcatraz, though at times I was annoyed at the fact that Alcatraz seemed madder at her for letting him grow up a foster child, yet staying close to him in her guise of Ms. Fletcher, than he is at his father Attica, who abandoned him completely. They did sort of reach a truce, which was lovely. We also witness more interaction between Grandpa, Uncle Kaz, and Attica, which reinforced that despite the strangeness of the Smedry’s, family is all important to them even when relationships are strained.
We learn even more about Librarian society through Shasta and by visiting the Highbrary. I loved that the main centre of power for the Librarians rested at the Library of Congress. As a location and institution, just that name conjures a certain atmosphere and visual, yet the Highbrary we’re presented with is very different that the images of the Library of Congress we usually see. And as true librarians know anything can carry information, the Librarians not only catalogue books, they also index and preserve cereal boxes, coins, even the rules cards from playing decks, and anything else that contains information. I loved the concept of the Highbrary and the way Sanderson shaped it. It was a fantastic backdrop for this book’s final showdown.
The Dark Talent is super fast paced, and very exciting. Despite the darker cast to the narrative, there is still plenty of humour and puns in the story. The ending is perfectly Alcatraz and is everything he warns the reader it will be. It’s completely unconventional and even annoyed me to a great extent, though when I kept reading — both the afterword and beyond — things fell into place and it became more palatable. All I can say is that I hope this won’t be the last we see of Alcatraz and the rest of the (extended) Smedry’s, because Sanderson left me very curious as to what next.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.