Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson


by Brandon Sanderson
Hardcover, 386 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2013
Series: The Reckoners, #1

This blurb was enough to get me excited about this book:

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.

If the book description doesn’t sell this book, I can’t imagine anything I say will. But the story of young David Charleston, orphaned during the takeover of this world by the Epics, fueled by a thirst for vengeance and justice, is one you’d do well to read.*

I wish I could remember what podcast I was listening to recently where they started discussing the difference between DC and Marvel heroes — but I thought of it when I was reading Steelheart. DC heroes, they claimed, jumped at the chance to use their powers to fight evil. Marvel heroes, on the other hand, were reluctant heroes — they have no other choice to do what they do with their powers. In Sanderson’s world, on the other hand, no one with powers wants to do anything for anyone but themselves. Basically, Steelheart is the embodiment of Lord Acton’s maxim, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

This is the YA thriller done right — a lot of action, a hint of romance (no triangle, for which we all owe you thanks, Mr. Sanderson), a solid group of characters, a very bleak looking world, and a central character that doesn’t really fit in — but is driven, more capable than anyone thinks, and in the right place at the right time.

This band of rebels David finds himself working with isn’t as rag-tag as you’d expect — which is an interesting way to approach it. But the Reckoners are rag-tag enough, that even if they weren’t going up against nigh-invulnerable people, you’d still see them as the underdogs. Which you have to see them as, or you won’t be able to root for them. It also helps that we don’t get a good look at the Epics as anything but “The Other” or “The Enemy.” We don’t get the chance to sympathize, to understand, to care about them.

One quibble — some of David’s humor, his references, don’t feel quite right — they don’t seem like the kind of thing a kid who’s been living the kind of life he’s been living for ten years. Actually, most of the humor in the book feels out of place coming from the Reckoners.

That said — David’s wit (as bumbling as it is), Cody’s self-aware eccentricity, the voice this story is told in is what moves this book from “engaging super-hero distopia” to “zowie!” It doesn’t ring true, but it doesn’t matter — Sanderson sells it while you’re reading.

I’m eager to see what Sanderson has for us in this series — where did these powers come from? What are the other groups of Reckoners like? Are we going to see [redacted] again? Is David ever going to figure out how to use figurative language?


*Unless you don’t like super-hero stories, YA adventure, distopian novels, or books that rock, if that’s the case, I can’t help you.


5 Stars

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