Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

(7.3/10)

Is it a bird? Is it a Plane? Is it a 1990’s Rock band? No, its tyrannical super-human dictator, hell bent of crushing the will of the masses! Ridiculous name and all.

The best way I can description the world Sanderson is laying out for us is a bastardised smash up of Watchmen and Superman’s DC Universe. This is neither a good or bad thing but should be taken up on it own merits. We have fantastical groups of villains, though once human have been granted a cornucopia of staggering abilities and instead of benefiting human kind decide to rule it.

Overall the approach works, but due to the whimsical and flamboyant pseudonyms they take for themselves I found it a little hard to take them seriously, even when death and destruction follow in their wake. What’s that old adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”. There are hints towards the end of the book that point to the reasons for this change in psyche of ordinary human to mad men and women, but it I don’t think it will be until the next book we get some answers.

It’s been a while since an opening chapter has captivated me the way Steelheart’s was able to. It was a great introduction to the humanity and guise of the Epics. Cold, remorseless and unstoppable, a world where ordinary humans have no value apart for the amusement and worth of an Epic. Noir themes dominate Sanderson’s world. A city in perpetual darkness, clothed in steel, cold, hard and enduring. A self-fulfilling epitaph for Steelheart’s reign and the humans who live under him.

Sanderson provides the reader with an opportunity to participate (in their own heads at least) in the story by trying to work out certain aspects of the Epics. You come up with wild theories around weaknesses, their history. My own Epic theories, include (no spoilers here):

Steelheart is a fake
David is an Epic
David is like Kryptonite to the Epics
David’s father was Kryptonite to Epics
All the Reckoners are Epics
Calamity the comet is a secret government Satellite
No I don’t think Aliens are involved.

In contrast to the heavy subject matter of human subjugation and world domination there is still a lightness to the characters and story that I found surprising. The banding together of individuals trying their best to make a difference in a world turned upside down and David’s continual attempts at terrible analogies are a great source of humour.

The attention to detail and sharpness in the action scenes both small and large is well planned and executed. The final confrontation keeps you glued to the page and it is difficult to try not to surge ahead too fast or skip anything to find out what happens next.

There were some elements that didn’t come across well or gel coherently for me, the biggest one being a concept that many of the Epics' powers break the laws of physics, which I found a little hard to take. If we are talking about a story that involved a level of magic I could accept this, but this is not the angle Sanderson is taking. Laws of physics should be bent, not broken. This also leads to the inclusion of Epic based technology. If people couldn’t understand how Epic powers works, how can you replicate that same thing in a piece of technology? Laws of physics appear to be flexible when it comes to the Epics, but laws of reason seem to also have been dismissed. Every Epic has a weakness, away to cancel out their power. Some are mundane, some completely ridiculous: standing in the shadow of a righteous man on a Tuesday wearing a leopard skin bikini hopping on one leg. That may be a bit of an exaggeration but there are some strange ones listed. Not sure what angle is being taken but I hope there is more of an explanation coming, as so far it makes zero sense.

Strength, speed and immortality are a few of the Epics powers, but ridiculously stupid evil villain names like Conflux, Deathpointer, Pink Pinkness: I am not sure whether to laugh or cry. I say laugh as it’s got to be some strange homage to Stan Lee. I will be honest, I went into this book not expecting to like it and came out pleasantly surprised. Don’t dwell too long on some of the comic book silliness and you will be pleased.
Fergus McCartan 7.5/10

--

In the fantasy-genre of fiction, a new Brandon Sanderson book is like a new U2 album hitting the music scene, or a new Joss Whedon film reaching theatres: It is big news, complete with waves trundling through the whole industry as readers, reviewers, industry professionals, and other authors all partake.

That being said, I’m going to be really interested in how ‘Steelheart’ is viewed by readers and professionals alike.

I'm not used to reading a Brandon Sanderson book and not being blown away at every point. It’s an odd sensation, and one that I hope I don’t get used to anytime soon. And while by the time I had finished the book I was suitably impressed by what Sanderson had wrought, the disappointment in not being astonished once again was bitter in my mouth.

Putting aside the absurd cliché that runs through the whole book – that our protagonist, David, can’t tell a sensible metaphor to save himself – which repeatedly dragged me out of the book, Steelheart just lacks the polish of his other books. That the book is referenced on Amazon as being for ages 12 and up and grades 7 and up is represented in the lack of depth any of the characters on display, as well as the lack of effort put into the character interactions and problem solving, all of which display a focus on entertainment rather than excellence.

Which is all quite disappointing, considering that the world and the plot have all the hallmarks of a Brandon Sanderson epic (pardon the pun, which you won’t get if you haven’t read the book, which makes it less of a pun). The world in which we are placed is immediately and intensely fascinating, giving us an alternative-Earth for the first time (at least, to those of us who don’t spend all our free-time on Coppermind) where something has happened to create beings with all the super-powers we’ve ever seen in comics.

Problem is, they all turn out evil.

It's a fascinating premise, fleshed out in vivid harshness, with none of the sugar-coating you’d expect from a ‘Superman’ or ‘Avengers’ comic. The characters are interesting (if, as mentioned, shallow) and the twists and turns leave you guessing right up until the end (even I had some suspicions, and while they were close, they weren’t close enough to ruin many surprises).

And by the end of the book, I was caught, desperately wanting more of the story, more of the characters, and more of everything. I hope that Sanderson will put a bit more time and effort into polishing the next book (called ‘Firefight’, if the final page reveal is to be believed) so that there is a bit more depth and feeling.

So while it may not be the height of his writing abilities, Steelheart is definitely recommended.
Joshua S Hill, 7/10

Reviews by and Joshua S Hill

All reviews for Brandon Sanderson's A Reckoners Novel series


Mitosis
A Reckoners Novel
4.0

Epics still plague Newcago, but David and the Reckoners have vowed to fight back. [...]


Steelheart
A Reckoners Novel #1
7.3

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no [...]


Firefight
A Reckoners Novel #2
9.0

Babylon Restored, formerly Manhattan, may give David answers. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic, Regalia, David is sure Babylon Restored will lead him to what he needs to f [...]


Calamity
A Reckoners Novel #3
7.0

They told David it was impossible - that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet, Steelheart - invincible, immortal, unconquerable - is dead. And he died by Da [...]

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12+

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8.2/10 from 2 reviews

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