narfna’s #CBR5 Review #98: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

steelheartThis wasn’t my favorite Sanderson ever. I had some issues with it on a technical level, but the worldbuilding was SO MUCH FUN that it almost didn’t even matter. (It’s actually kind of a relief to read a book of his I don’t LOVE ALL CAPS because it means he’s only human after all. Dude writes SO MANY BOOKS and they’re ALL GOOD.)

Steelheart, the first book in Sanderson’s Reckoners series, is an extremely creative take on the superhero genre. It’s been ten years since an event people have dubbed Calamity, which granted certain members of the population superpowers. These people are called Epics, and they are all of them huge dickwads: violent, egomanical, emotionally unstable, power-hungry assholes. With the appearance of the Epics, society descended into chaos. Epic after Epic took control over whole cities. The government collapsed. In some cities, Epics rule like monarchs. Such is the case with Chicago, now called Newcago, which is ruled by an Epic called Steelheart, who has the power to turn anything to steel, and is seemingly invincible.

This is where our protagonist, David, comes in. David’s father was a firm believer that one day an Epic would come that would be good and kind, who would wish to help rather than hurt. David’s father is murdered by Steelheart, right in front of David’s eyes, when he was ten years old. Steelheart then demolished the bank they were in and killed everyone in it, except for David. David is now the only person alive to have seen Steelheart bleed. And he’s gone looking for a group called the Reckoners, whose sole mission is taking out Epics one by one. He knows he’s the only person alive that might be able to help them take down Steelheart, and he’s made it his life’s mission to do so.

Like I said, exploring this world that Sanderson created, learning its rules, was pure pleasure. It was refreshing to read a take on superheroes that had the superheroes as the bad guys. It’s a very cynical outlook on human nature, and I found it intriguing, especially given the presence of David’s father, who believed so strongly that Epics could be good. It bodes well for future installments in the series. I also really liked that this book had a self-contained element to it, a beginning, middle and end. It also felt a bit like a crime/heist caper story, which was really fun.

I did have some issues with it. With a couple exceptions, the characters didn’t really grab my emotions by the balls or anything. I didn’t care about most of them very much, and actively disliked the one that kept saying y’all to refer to a singular person. I know I also had some other technical issues with it, but it’s been over a months and a half since I read it, and I don’t remember what those issues were. Also of concern is the protag, David. Because he’s so driven by his mission, he doesn’t have much of an emotional arc. The focus in this book is definitely on plot and worldbuilding, and I’m hoping in future books we get a bit more characterization for him and the others. I know plot and worldbuilding are Sanderson’s strengths, but he can do characters too. I’ve seen him at it.

All in all, a really fun book, and I’m confident/hopeful that the issues I had with it will be addressed in future books. And even if they’re not, I’ll probably still enjoy them.

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