Alcatraz Smedry is up against a whole army of Evil Librarians with only his friend Bastille, a few pairs of glasses, and an unlimited supply of exploding teddy bears to help him. This time, even Alcatraz’s extraordinary talent for breaking things may not be enough to defeat the army of Evil Librarians and their giant librarian robots.
The Shattered Lens is the fourth instalment in the Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians series and this time Alcatraz goes to war! Or rather, he goes to stop a war and prevent the Librarians from conquering the entire country of Mokia. Our boy is growing up and coming into his own, though not without wreaking a lot of havoc.
Before diving into the narrative, something which I forgot to discuss in previous reviews of books in this series—I loved the illustrations Hayley Lazo created. Through her drawings Bastille also got to have a direct say on some things and they formed a great form of interpunction to the story. I also liked that her style was so distinct from the style of the cover artist, Scott Brundage. It made the illustrations feel more a part of the narrative than just an add-on to it. This new edition of the series is worth the price of admission for the illustrations alone.
Where in The Knights of Crystallia Alcatraz suddenly couldn’t stop portraying his brilliance, in The Shattered Lens he’s back to telling us that if he were his better self, he would want to be the hero people make him out to be, but he’s really just a coward. It shows how much Alcatraz has already grown that he would admit to wanting to be a hero and a good person. This was also illustrated by the back and forth with Bastille and her exasperation that he keeps waffling about being a leader when he thinks about it too much, while when he acts on instinct he automatically takes the lead. However, Alcatraz isn’t the only one who has grown, Bastille is changing too. The more Alcatraz gets to know her, the more we understand her; but she also allows Alcatraz to see her more vulnerable side and the fears and insecurities she carries. Though she’d sooner punch Alcatraz in the nose than admit this was true. I loved how Alcatraz has gotten the knack of bending the various Smedry Talents to his own requirements. Not just Aydee’s — bad at maths Aydee is all of us! — but his Grandpa’s and Uncle Kaz’s too; he’s thinking laterally and circumventing their seeming limitations.
This character growth also resonates with one of the themes that Alcatraz focuses on in the chapter introductions. He ruminates on change and how nothing stays the same, quoting the old adage that you can never step into the same river twice (cue Pocahontas warbling about a river bend) Throughout the book, Alcatraz stresses change—change in himself, in others, in the way he views the world, himself, and his family. I liked how this theme and the different guises of change returned in most chapters.
Of course The Shattered Lens is just as wacky and puntastic as the previous books and Sanderson throws tons of weirdly awesome stuff at the reader. Some of these are, like the river metaphor, elements that return again and again. For example, the definitions and gradations of stoopidity (Alcatraz’s spelling, not a typo) that become sillier and more specific as they increase in strength. Or the messing about with the chapter numbering/naming, and the explanation for why he chose to do this, an explanation this librarian found eminently reasonable.
As before, Sanderson includes a lot of literary theory in the form of tropes and writing devices, sneaking in some education in the guise of jokes. He even has a Chekhov’s Gun element, though perhaps that should read a Chekhov’s Teddy Bear. In addition to the theory, there are also more homages to other foundational fantasy texts, both through allusion and through Grandpa Smedry’s inventive cursing.
In short, The Shattered Lens is another bonkers and punny adventure in the series and one that picks the pace back up a little after the middle book lull of the previous book. Though, how could it not when it features giant librarian robots! I had a great time with The Shattered Lens and I was glad I could roll on into the fifth book, The Dark Talent immediately.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.