There was more connectivity between city-states in the Fractured States than I’d once assumed. Perhaps the Epics could have survived without any kind of infrastructure, but they tended to want subjects to rule. What good was it to be an all-powerful force of destruction and fury if you didn’t have peasants to murder now and then? Unfortunately peasants had to eat, or they’d go and die before you got a chance to murder them.
That meant building up some kind of structure in your city, finding some kind of product you could trade. Cities that could produce a surplus of food could trade for power cells, weapons or luxuries. I found that satisfying. When they’d first appeared, the Epics had wantonly destroyed anything and everything, ruining the national infrastructure. Now they were forced to bring it all back, becoming administrators.
Life was so unfair. You couldn’t both destroy everything around you and live like a king.
I really enjoyed Steelheart, the first novel in this trilogy — and Firefight was a lot of fun, if not as good — it wasn’t anything serious, weighty, or bogged-down with teenage drama. Just a fun story about super-powered individuals ruling over a post-apocalyptic dystopia and the non-super-powered rebels trying to take them down. So, how’d Brandon Sanderson wrap things up? In a very mixed bag — an ending that was honest, consistent, and fitting for the series, but one I really didn’t care for.
Which is going to take some explanation.
David’s voice is as friendly, upbeat, and nerdy in the way that charmed me in the beginning. Even weighted down with added burdens and losses, he’s hung onto his core personality. His metaphors are as painful as ever — his ability to get his teammates to go along with the biggest of hare-brained schemes is intact and still astounding.
I wanted answers. They were probably here somewhere. Maybe I’d find them behind that group of robotic war drones that were extending their gun arms from behind the freezers in front of me.
But he isn’t the same kid we met on the streets of Newcago — he’s lost his drive for revenge, it’s evolved into something else (and/or been revealed or better understood to be something else). He’s not out for blood, not out for simply overthrowing the Epics. He still wants to stop them, to restore rule to non-Epics and free them from the tyranny they’re under. But it’s because of wrong and right, for deeper reasons, purer motives.
He’s not the only one who’s changed and grown — Megan, the love of his life and former foe, has greater understanding of herself and her powers, she’s gaining more and more control of both. Part of it is self-acceptance, part of it is David’s faith in her. Either way, she’s a more entertaining character — and a less threatening force (at least as far as The Reckoners are concerned).
Thanks to their travel and experience, David and the others have a better understanding of how the world works (see the above quotation for a hint) — and some of the Epics have had to make adjustments, if for no other reason to keep their subjects alive and working. From a surprising source, we learn how the Reckoners tech works — as do they — and it’s pretty odd (and interesting). Not only that — the source of Calamity, the source of the Epics’ powers is revealed. You really can’t ask for more than that.
Well, actually you can — one of the other things that comes out of the growth and development of David (and the rest) over the series, and especially over this book, are some underlying themes that come out. They’ve been there since the beginning if you knew how to look, but here, Sanderson makes them explicit. I really appreciated them as they surfaced — I’m not sure that a lot of the YA crowd that this is targeted for would as much as I did, but many would. The last scene is pretty heartwarming, really — something I wouldn’t have expected at pretty much any point in the series (and has nothing to do with romance, for the record).
So why am I lukewarm about this? While the execution was consistent, the tone was right on-pitch and Sanderson didn’t cheat anywhere along the way to the series conclusion, I just didn’t like it. I didn’t like the explanation given for the source of the powers. I didn’t like the way the last half of the book played out (mostly everything after the last battle with the Prof, really — so less than half, but the groundwork was laid at about the 50% mark). Sanderson told the story he wanted to, in a way that made sense to the rest of the series, and he never copped out or went for high drama over being true to his story. So I can’t judge it too harshly. I just didn’t care for the way it played out. Which pretty much just means that Sanderson wrote the ending he wanted and not the one I wanted. Sure, I think it’s tacky, but you can add that to the very long list of things that he didn’t ask me.
I wasn’t wowed, wasn’t thrilled with things in the end. But I really can’t complain about any of it. Fans of — or at least readers of — the series should check out the conclusion, just to get the closure it brings. Hopefully, you’ll get more out of it than I did.