Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Alcatraz versus the Unreliable Narrator

 I have finished the fifth book in Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz books. And ooooh boy, do I want to write about them.

But the books are too much fun for me to spoil :) So I don’t want to go into any of the twisty plot elements. But the format gives me plenty to discuss.

Alcatraz is an orphan who discovers that he actually nobility of a fantastical hidden world, has vast magical powers and is at the forefront of the battle between good and evil. Which makes the series sound like a clone of Harry Potter. Instead, it relentlessly subverts those expectations.

Alcatraz is the narrator of his own adventures. And he is not just an unreliable narrator. He brags about being an unreliable narrator. On top of that, he discusses literary tropes and literary history, getting side tracked from the actual narrative constantly. 

Interestingly enough, it isn’t quite as meta as it sounds. Alcatraz doesn’t know that he’s in a book. He knows that he’s writing a book. (Well, within the context of the books. I’m pretty sure Brandon Sanderson is real author)

This has the interesting effect of letting Sanderson actively discuss the nuts and bolts of literature and writing while still making it make sense and be accessible within the context of the story.

And Alcatraz is a _fun_ narrator. Snarky, actually pretty funny and self-depreciating to the point of being legitimately damaged, Alcatraz is engaging and sympathetic. He’s very much of a guile hero but one whose desperate, cunning plans tend to have unfortunate and unforeseen consequences. He frequently points out that, since he is writing his autobiography, that he clearly lives through the books but there are still stakes.

The Alcatraz books pulls off being an interesting experiment/exploration in writing and being a decent story as well. Since it is theoretically aimed at younger readers, it needs to have the second part. Still, the former is really the selling point of the books.

So. Good books. Glad I read them. Go read them.

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