Book Review: The Dark Talent by Brandon Sanderson
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Series: Book 5 of Alcatraz
Publisher: Starscape (September 6, 2016)
Length: 304 pages
Edit: Holy crap. HOLEEE CRAP. The following review was based on the ARC, but I just got my finished copy from the publisher, and I just saw the little “note” that was added at the end of the final hardcover. My original rating stands because I still feel the same way for the most part, but I’m not going to lie, this does change things somewhat. I’m feeling a lot more positive about the ending now. Read it, and you will see.
Well, I’ve just finished this book, and now I have to ask, what is up with all your evil series endings, Mr. Sanderson?! This isn’t the first time I’ve had mixed feelings about the way one of his series ended; first it was the original Mistborn trilogy and earlier this year it was the Reckoners. To be fair, the difference is that Alcatraz has been warning about this moment for years—the books have repeatedly told us what a liar, a coward, and all around bad person Alcatraz is, and he’s no hero—so don’t be surprised if he leaves you with an ending that makes you want to SCREAM!
Ahem, my point is, this was still a great book, but hopefully you have been heeding our protagonist’s foreshadowing. You have been warned…
The Dark Talent picks up where things left off in book four, The Shattered Lens, which was originally published almost six years ago, so this concluding volume was a long time coming. Alcatraz Smedry and the gang have just fought off a whole army of Evil Librarians and saved the Free Kingdom nation of Mokia. However, that victory came at a very high price. Mokia now lies in ruins, with many of its warriors in a coma after falling victim to a chemical weapon developed by the Librarians. Among them is Alcatraz’s good friend Bastille, the young knight of Crystallia who pledged to protect him. Even worse, at the end of the last book, Alcatraz did something that left all of his family members’ talents inactive. Yes, he actually managed to break all the Smedry talents with his Smedry breaking talent.
Meanwhile, they still have to track down Alcatraz’s father who is determined to carry out a brilliant plan that, while good intentioned, could still have the potential to ruin the world. They know that he has gone to Washington DC, home of the Library of Congress—or the “Highbrary”, which is what Librarians call their main headquarters. Once again, Alcatraz and his family and friends find themselves preparing to infiltrate a library, but this time the stakes are much, much higher.
On the whole, this book was fantastic, following in the same footsteps as the previous volumes when it comes to the off-the-wall humor and wackiness. Sanderson falls effortlessly back into the tone of this series, and the snark is stronger than ever! Another development is that Alcatraz has discovered footnotes, and has been using (abusing?) them like it’s going out of style, the little scamp. The action is also alive and well as our heroes venture into the great labyrinthine Highbrary to retrieve Alcatraz’s father, and the many twists and turns—both figurative and literal—will keep you on the edge of your seat.
However, I also feel this is the darkest book of the series. The last few chapters or so really drove it home for me, though I suppose looking back, the darkness might have been building up for a while already, as Alcatraz gradually matured and grew as a character. He’s still the boy we first met in Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, but in many ways he’s also…not. I’ve written in my reviews for the previous books that beneath all the humor and quirkiness, there’s a deeper level to this series. I guess in The Dark Talent, some of that is finally coming to the surface.
Which brings me to the ending. I didn’t really like it, as painful as it is for me to admit. But I had known something like it might be coming, and if you’ve also read all the books, you might be expecting it as well. It was all very sudden, brutally candid and to-the-point, and even a little unpleasant, almost like Sanderson wasn’t sure how to end the book so he just wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. That’s the best way I can describe it. I still love this series to bits, but ugh, that ending still makes me feel like someone hit me over the head with a frying pan.
It’s all done now, though; the Alcatraz series has come to an end. I’m really glad I got to read all of the books this year, as they’ve been on my reading list for a long time. The re-issues of books 1-4 by Starscape finally presented me with the perfect opportunity to catch up, and I’m already looking forward to rereading them with my kids once they’re old enough to appreciate the stories. Until then, I’m going to miss this series, and all the wonderful characters—Alcatraz, Bastille, Draulin, Kaz, Australia, Folsom, Himalaya, even Shasta, and most of all, Grandpa Smedry. What a wild ride it has been. Highly recommended.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians (Book 1)
Review of The Scrivener’s Bones (Book 2)
Review of The Knights of Crystallia (Book 3)
Review of The Shattered Lens (Book 4)