Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
Published by Gollancz, September 2014. Paperback of 384 pages at £8.99.
The cover: The title character stares upon Newcago, the city he rules. Futurisitic skyscrapers dwarf the ancient buildings of normal society. All looks idyllic, until one looks in the bottom left corner and spies a broken girder, hinting at the destruction and chaos that lurks in the city. Outstanding cover by Sam Green that is the perfect tease for what this tale is about. Overall grade: A
The premise: From the back 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 buy 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.” All super powered individuals are villains, and humans are trying to wipe them off the map, with the uber-villain being the one the protagonist wants to kill the most? Oh, yeah. I’m interested. Overall grade: A
The characters: The main character is David Charleston, and eighteen year old who has been spending the last ten years of his life studying every Epic he’s heard of in the hopes of it leading to Steelheart’s death. Picture a fanboy who knows everything about every super powered character, including their weaknesses. He’s naïve with how the Reckoners work, but he’s incredibly knowledgeable in how to help them. He’s also an expert in weapons as child labor laws are now ignored and he’s spent ten years building weapons for Steelheart’s enforcers. David is the narrator of the story and I was with his voice on every page. Leading the Reckoners is Prof, a man who designs super weapons to destroy the Epics, but also seeming to have a secret. Megan is the major fighting force for the team, and she’s the one that David is smitten with at first sight. She’s attractive but really dislikes David, and as the book progresses it’s revealed why. Steelheart is only present at the beginning and ending of the book, but that’s how it should be. He has no known weaknesses, he runs Newcago like a despot, and he uses lesser Epics as his muscle. He’s Superman gone evil. His two Epic enforcers are Nightwielder, who can make himself transparent and command tendrils of darkness to destroy his opponents, and Firefight, who can project flame at great distances. Nightwielder is the most seen and most frightening Epic, and he’s terrific. Firefight doesn’t appear until the end and his powers are a revelation. There are minor Epics, like Curveball and Fortuity, but the sky’s the limit for Sanderson’s imagination and any reader can find some character with some ability they’ve seen before but now twisted for evil. Every character was tons of fun. Overall grade: A+
The settings: Newcago is what Chicago has become after Steelheart has arrived. It’s the best run city in what’s left of the United States–it has running water, electricity, and a semblance of society, but any normal could die if an Epic wills it so. There’s not too much time spent on the surface of the city, though there is an incredible chase scene toward the end, but the majority of the book is spent in the underworld where the Reckoners hide. This location also contains civilization that shies away from death by Epic, but there’s always the threat that those super powered people will come below. Sanderson describes every location with a wealth of detail that I could probably map out each setting. Overall grade: A
The action: Fantastic stuff here. This is comic book level action without the clichés as people try to kill Epics. The entrance of Steelheart sets the tone of violence and level of epic action. The Reckoners’ first hit on an Epic is like a spy movie, and when David joins them in an official capacity the action increases, including a fantastic chase through the streets, and a climax to kill Steelheart. I would love to see these scenes in a film. Overall grade: A+
The conclusion: Great conclusion, with the possibility of a sequel, which is indeed coming. However, one could stop at this novel and feel more than satisfied. This ended perfectly. Overall grade: A+
The final line: I had heard good things about this book and put off reading it for fear of going overdose on super heroes, but I should have listened to my friends and read it long ago. This is full of immense action, heroics, and evil without the clichés one would associate with super powered people. I recommend this to anyone who loves comic books, adventure, or a fun story. Highly recommended. Overall grade: A+
Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!”, he reviewed comics for TrekWeb, and he currently reviews Trek comics at TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for two years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.