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four book covers I got this bundle of four books in the Alcatraz series, by Brandon Sanderson, and since I loved all of his books so far, I enthusiastically started to read them. First, you need to understand that there are five books in the series, with The Dark Talent just published. I think it pays to wait until you have it before you read the whole thing, since it pretty much reads as one long story (unless you read the beginning and then immediately skip to the end of each book, heh heh heh!). Second, you need to know that at the beginning the writing will appear waaaay too silly and under par compared to the author's other works. After a while it kind of grew on me, but be aware that it is written mostly for kids. Sanderson even says so in the story itself.

So at first I kind of thought this will be the series that breaks the rule, the one that I would not enjoy reading, and it took some time to shake off this feeling. It feels like the author could not make up his mind on what to write: the obligatory book about writers (after all, the rule says "write what you know", so in the end it's inevitable) or the recently obligatory Harry Potter spoof (which fantasy authors are peer pressured into writing). In the end he wrote something that has both: a story about a boy discovering he has magical powers and also a book filled with meta comments and breaks in the Fourth Wall (the character has the Breaking Talent, see) that shows some of the tools and processes in the writing business.

In fact, the more I read, the more I enjoyed the books. The characters are as always incredibly (annoyingly) positive and there is that Sanderson smartness behind even the silliest of exchanges. He references future scenes, with book and page number (which is amazing if you think about it), he hooks you to a scene then berates himself on using hooks in the book, he uses really silly and out of context details only to use them at full effectiveness a book later. In the end, you get something that children will undoubtedly read with giggling pleasure and that adults (especially those interested in writing) will see as a deconstruction of the writing process.

Now, I still feel the Alcatraz series is one of the lesser Brandon Sanderson books. The silliness sometimes feels forced and the way he writes each book changes slightly, as he experiments with the crazy shenanigans that he started with this series. It's still very entertaining, though. Give it a try, or give it to your children so they can get into writing themselves and make your life a living hell when they grow up :)


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