Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

CalamityCalamity

by Brandon Sanderson
Series: The Reckoners, #3

Hardcover, 417 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2016

Read: March 30 – April 2, 2016

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.

Oh.

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.

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3 Stars

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

FirefightFirefight

by Brandon Sanderson

Hardcover, 416 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2015
Series: The Reckoners, #2
Read: January 30 – February 2, 2015

…as she’d left, I’d glanced at her gun.
This time, when she’d pointed it at me, she’d flicked the safety on. If that wasn’t true love, I don’t know what was.

We’ve all been there, right?

In the months since David did the impossible by killing the Epic Steelheart, he and the rest of the Reckoners have continued their war against the Epics — successfully enough, that Newcago is beginning to rule itself (sure, with the puppet government that Steelheart allowed, but it’s starting to come into its own). The last few of these have been sent by the Epic that runs Babilar (Babylon Restored = Manhattan), Regalia. So, David, the Prof, and Tia leave the rest of the Newcago crew to keep order, and head to Babilar to see what they can do about Regalia.

Meanwhile, David’s trying to convince the Reckoners that Megan wasn’t a traitor and murderer, and while an Epic, she deserves a second chance. And not just because he’s gaga for her.

It’s possible that the city of Babilar is the happiest city in contemporary YA dystopias. It’s definitely one of the most upbeat depictions of Manhattan that I’ve ever read/seen. Which is saying something, considering that it’s pretty much flooded (and ruled by an Epic who can control water). But thanks to a religion/philosophy/frame of mind (depending who you ask) — possibly Epic-induced, possibly spontaneous — the people of Babilar are a lot more positive, have a certain joie de vivre, and are a lot less interested in the work of the Reckoners than anyone else we’ve heard of in this world (and poor Dave is rather befuddled by this). I don’t want to get too descriptive of it — Sanderson will do better than I ever could, anyway — so let me leave it with this: I’m not crazy about the water, and I might be persuaded to move to Babilar.

One thing I’d forgotten from Steelheart was Dave’s general goofiness and voice. I did remember how bad his metaphors were (particularly, as it was pointed out to him that they aren’t even metaphors at all), but I didn’t remember how fun Dave was as a character when he wasn’t being more driven and vengeful than a teen-aged Bruce Wayne. Maybe Sanderson didn’t stress it as much last time out, or given Steelheart’s death, he’s lightened up. My guess it was a failure of my memory — but I really enjoyed Dave’s voice here (think Peter Parker à la Bendis), and would’ve kept with the book just for it , even if I stopped caring about the rest of the story (little chance of that happening, I should say).

But even with Dave’s snappy narration and Babilar’s vibe, there’s a lot of suspense in Firefight. A lot of deception, treachery, and danger everywhere. In the brightest of moments lurks a real possibility of the world becoming a darker place than it has been since Calamity and the advent of the Epics. Sanderson attempted a real balancing act here, and pretty much pulled it off. Up to, and including a great cliffhanger that makes the wait for the final volume of this series all the worse.

The only other note I can think to say here is that Sanderson has the most creative use of Fortune cookies in fiction here. Inspired. Read it for yourself.

Fun, fast-paced, exciting tale of super-powered dictators and the people resisting them — give Firefight a read if you’ve already enjoyed Steelheart. But go back and grab Steelheart first if you haven’t.

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4 Stars

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart
Steelheart

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?

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*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.

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5 Stars