Review: ‘Steelheart’ by Brandon Sanderson

steelheart_cover

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 friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.

Nobody fights the Epics … nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart — the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning — and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

If Emmie Mears is my favourite new urban fantasy discovery for 2016, then Brandon Sanderson has to be my favourite general fantasy discovery. I listened to Steelheart on audiobook, and it gripped me to the point where I was sneakily listening to it while waiting for my son at school pick-up yesterday.

(It was the penultimate chapter! Don’t judge me!)

Things to love about Steelheart

David, the main character, is a nerd. But — because he’s spent most of his life in a post-apocalyptic, super villain (aka Epic) world — his nerdiness runs to gun manufacture and use, and to research and trivia about Epics. He manages to be focused on revenge without being broody and obnoxious (phew). And he has the most hamhandedly delightful inability to use metaphors that I’ve ever encountered in a character.

The rest of the Reckoners team is interesting and dynamic. There’s Prof, the gruff leader with a secret; Tia, the scientist and researcher; Abraham, the spiritualist and crack shot with a gun; and Cody, the ex-cop and comic relief. And, of course, Megan, the ice princess who David starts crushing on pretty much immediately.

The plot is full of planning, scheming and a bunch of action sequences that leave you gripped. Guns! Explosions! More guns! (I got a little tired of Sanderson’s gun obsession, truth be told.) A car chase, but with motorbikes and helicopters! BOOM! POW!

The villains are suitably evil, with non-traditional superpowers. Steelheart himself is a bit like Superman, if he swapped out the ice breath for the ability to transform any non-living material around him into, well, steel. A lot of the book is spent (between gunfights) trying to figure out what Steelheart’s kryptonite is. The revelation is one of the final plot twists. Which brings me to…

The plot twists. Sanderson is a master at these things. I thought this time that I was onto him. I saw a lot of the foreshadowing, but … I drew completely the wrong conclusions! Aaah! (Next time, Sanderson! Next time!)

Things I loved a little less about Steelheart

Some of the descriptions (such as of the guns, or of simple things like the fact Abraham had a soft French accent) got a tiny bit repetitive after a while. I think this might just be Sanderson’s style, because I’ve noticed the same thing in his other books.

I found David’s obsession with Megan, the prettiest girl in the room, a little … I don’t know, shallow? Her attitude towards him was almost always somewhere between chilly and frosty, with only occasional glimpses of warmth. By the end of the book that all made sense, but I never really understood why David kept persisting in trying to impress her. I had to keep reminding myself that he was 18 and not very experienced with girls … or other humans in general.

I think, in the end, I expected more from the book’s leading lady — someone like Vin or Sarene. Megan’s portrayal felt a little more “fan service-y”, where the fans are presumed to be teenage boys.

The counter to this is that her story arc takes a very interesting turn. I’m keen to see where it goes next.

Four-and-a-half stars

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