Gollancz, p/b, £16.99
Reviewed by Stewart Horn
Everything we think we know about the world is in fact propaganda fed to us by the evil librarians who secretly rule the world. There are whole other continents we don’t know about because the librarians edit the atlases, and the librarian-controlled nations (us) are at war with the Twelve Kingdoms. The free world’s greatest warriors have astounding powers like always turning up late, breaking things, getting lost easily, dancing really badly and looking extremely ugly in the mornings. The librarian armies wear a uniform of corduroy trousers, tanktops and nerdy glasses.
If I had to write a one-word review, the word would be silly, but this is silliness of an inspired and highly engaging kind. There is some clever wordplay, usually with an absurd punchline, a lot of slapstick, some entirely appropriate toilet humour and juvenile innuendo, all packed into a fast-paced fantasy-adventure story.
I would say this is aimed mainly but not exclusively at boys aged 9-14 or so, and it hits his target audience spot on, in the same way as Roald Dahl and Eoin Colfer books often do. But the sense of fun should appeal to both sexes and a broader age range; it would be a good one to read aloud to younger children, and it definitely brought out the inner adolescent in this slightly older reviewer – I giggled along like a schoolboy. He even manages to sneak in some more mature sub-plots and character relationships, subtly enough not to distract from the action.
We often hear how difficult it is to get boys to read fiction – Alcatraz might well be the answer.
This edition is four novels in one, a 750 page whopper – the individual books are available too.