Review: Steelheart - Brandon Sanderson
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
Series: The Reckoners #1
Genre: YA, science fiction
Published on September 23, 2013
Published by Delacorte
Read From: 12.14.13 - 12.21.13
Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary people extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.
Epics are no friends of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man, you must crush his will.
Now, in what was once Chicago, an astonishingly powerful Epic named Steelheart has installed himself as emperor. Steelheart possesses the strength of ten men and can control the elements. It is said that no bullet can harm him, no sword can split his skin, and no fire can burn him. He is invincible. Nobody fights back. . . .nobody but the Reckoners.
A shadowy group of ordinary humans, the Reckoners spend their lives studying the Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them. And David wants in.
When Steelheart came to Chicago, he killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David has been studying and planning, and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.
He has seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.
Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Actually, I do like the cover art. Rather simplistic and futuristic, it's the sort I normally kind of cock my eyebrow at and assume is probably some dull YA read with tons of high-tech terms and not a whole lot more. Well, Steelheart isn't all high-techy (though it has a good dose of that); it's superheroes. But these aren't you typical superheroes.
Characters: Some Readers, I know, didn't like being locked inside of David's head. They found his sarcasm and hugely nerdy sense of humor to be annoying after a time. I am not one of those Readers. I really enjoyed David both as the narrator and protagonist. I love sarcasm, and his nerdiness gave him a lot of character and made him really rather funny. He's very intelligent and also very much a guy, but it all blends together to make probably one of my favorite male protagonists of the year. David isn't for everyone, but I personally loved him. It did take me a little while to form a complete opinion on the other characters. I liked Prof right off - he, in some ways, reminds me of Jason Gideon in Criminal Minds (who happens to be my favorite, and yes, I know he leaves the show, and I'm not looking forward to that season). The obvious leader of the group with a deeper past than we're privy to (but will hopefully learn more about in time), he was just awesome - even if his tendency to call everyone "son" did annoy me after a while. Cody's cheesy sense of humor somehow endeared him to me rather than irritated me, Abraham was your typical "muscles of the group," and Tia kind of the ground support in operations. She's the one who knows everyone else's backstories and acts as the eyes and ears. Everyone trusts Tia. Why it took me so long to completely like them, I'm not sure. Maybe because when we first meet them, they feel pretty cliche - and there is something about them that feels almost too classic. But try as I might, I couldn't dislike them. Megan was a hard one. She never had The Attitude exactly, though she certainly had quite the temper and often was needlessly mean and sour toward David. I was just as confused about her mood swings as David was, and if I hadn't felt like there was a logical explanation behind her mood swings that would later be revealed, it might have bothered me more than it did. Megan is complicated, and I did kind of like that, even if I couldn't decide what I thought of her until the end. The villains themselves are interesting. Steelheart's cliche appearance - perfect hair, silver cape, sculpted chest - almost made him too ridiculous to take seriously (especially since I was picturing Metroman from Megamind whenever David described him). But he pulled off classic dictator so well, and his supporting villains were so good at not caring who they hurt, that I ended up liking them more than I thought I would. Nightwielder, especially, was intimidating.
The Romance: The romance isn't nearly as bad as I thought it might be. Not surprisingly, Megan is the love interest for David, and it's obvious right off that David really likes her. Megan isn't quite as receptive - in fact, she's downright rude to him. And David is pretty head-over-heels drooling over her. Normally that kind of thing annoys me, and I did do a lot of eye-rolling when David started off on talking about Megan. But David also acknowledges that his feelings are ridiculous; that he's not even sure it's love he's feeling. Before meeting Megan, his only focus in life has been to kill Steelheart, and suddenly he's able to care about something - someone - else other than Steelheart's demise. Will the romance become something deeper? Possibly, and I can't say I'm totally against it. So far, the Author has dealt with it in an easy and sometimes amusing manner. It's there, but it doesn't get in the way.
Plot: When a mysterious red star, called Calamity, appeared in the sky, certain people were endowed with incredible gifts. Whether or not this occurrence is connected to Calamity, no one really knows. But one thing is for sure: unlike in the comic books and movies, these gifted people are no protectors of humankind. Called Epics, these people have destroyed the world, enslaved mundanes, and set up dictatorships in the ruins of many cities, such as Chicago. The most powerful Epic is called Steelheart, who has set himself up in said city, ruling with an iron (or should we say steel?) fist, and beating down any Epics who dare try and overthrow him. Steelheart is entirely invincible; nothing can hurt him. Or is that truly the case? David knows it isn't. When Steelheart first came to Chicago, he saw Steelheart bleed from a wound inflicted by a stray bullet. This one moment of weakness caused the deaths of everyone at that scene, including David's father. Now, David has made it his life to study Epics and seek a way to kill Steelheart. Most mundanes don't dare stand up to Epics, except for one rebel group called Reckoners. When David discovers that a cell is coming to Newcago to take down one of the more powerful Epics, he determines to find them and join their ranks. But not just anyone can join the Reckoners - unless that person has as useful bit of information as David does: that there is a way to take Steelheart down. I am not a superhero fan. I never have been and my opinion has not changed with the revamp of such superheroes as Batman or Superman - or even the Avengers. This isn't to say that I have anything against superheroes (so put away your stones, nerds); they've just never been my thing. So I was somewhat dubious about Steelheat when I first picked it up. However, the concept of bad superheroes was too good to resist. And let me tell you: I may never become a convert to the Avengers or the Justice League, but I totally loved Steelheart. Let's face it: most people, unfortunately, would become dictators if they were suddenly gifted with invincibility and destructive powers. Not all, but most. And this book delves into a lot of themes revolving around absolute power corrupts, or is it the person who corrupts power, et cetera. It also delivers a healthy dose of action, a lot of guns (oh my heavens, was I ever loving all of the technical gun talk!), and a great bunch of Epic classifications and the particulars of their powers and all of those nerdy technicalities. Steelheart delves so deeply into its world building that it is understandable why some Readers felt that this book dragged in the middle. Surprisingly, I actually rather enjoyed all of the technicalities and nerdy world building, but I can definitely understand why some didn't. If the Author hadn't been so coherent in outlining everything, I would have felt lost. And he does make up for it in the moments he has action. Car chases, botched operations, gundowns, and a lot of planning. Let me say that again: there is a lot of planning. Perhaps more than there really needed to be, but I really cannot help but appreciate the Author's thoroughness. I don't know; maybe my enthusiasm for this book doesn't entirely make sense. But I just loved it.
Believability: Some Readers complained about how David was always successful. Things would be going badly and David would throw together some spur-of-the-moment plan that would always work. I actually really liked how bloody successful he was - it's going to make it that much more painful when he does mess up in the future.
Writing Style: First person, past tense. If you don't like David, then you're not going to like this book much, because you are stuck in his head. And the narration does a lot of times just follow David's thoughts, into all of their random little metaphors and tangents. His metaphors cracked me up, and the narration being so immersed in David's thoughts added a lot to understanding his personality. However, there were hitches. I did not like the slang. I never like "futuristic" slang; it always comes across as silly. The action sequences are very moment-by-moment and therefore become tedious. And while I enjoyed the world building and technicalities when it came to the Epics themselves, there could have been a little less gadget-y technical details. And I'm not talking about the gun technology (because there can never be too much of that); more the other stuff. While girls will enjoy Steelheart, there was a definite "guyness" to the whole thing. And I'm not generally a fan of "guyness," though I didn't mind it too much in this.
Conclusion: Brandon Sanderson is good at taking a rather predictable twist and yanking it out from under his Reader's feet. My guess on Steelheart's weakness wasn't too far off, but I didn't feel disappointed when it's actually revealed because it was still something of a surprise. The twist concerning Prof I did figure out early on, but I also didn't mind that - mostly because it was a twist that just worked, and also because the Author has a third twist that did take me by surprise. And it was good. It totally made the book. Steelheart isn't for everyone. Some will find it tedious or won't like the characters as much as I did. But I really enjoyed it, and Readers who aren't normally into superhero stories will probably enjoy this.
Recommended Audience: Guy-read (and girls who like guy reads), sixteen-and-up, fans of Brandon Sanderson, science fiction, superheroes, and Readers who aren't really a fan of superheroes.