Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson was first published in 2013. It is the first (of three) novel in Sanderson’s The Reckoners series for so-called young adult readers. Having recently read another famous “young adult” novel, I decided to zip through a second while I was at it and this Sanderson book has been on the list for quite some time. I had heard good things about it and I figured after the recent disappointing read, my expectations were pretty low.
Frankly, this one was better than I ever expected. I got the copy on the clearance shelf at the local (ONLY!) bookstore. I really enjoyed this novel because it is one of those action-packed, tension-dripping, pulse-pounding stories that make for fun reads and easy movie-making. It is a futuristic dystopian novel told from the viewpoint of David Charleston – the eighteen year old main character. (I wondered if Sanderson selected “Charleston” as a nod to the late Robert Jordan.)
“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.”
In a city bank, young David witnesses an attack on Chicago by a superpowered humanoid named “Steelheart.” David’s father is killed in the attack. Ten years later, David is looking for revenge. Ever since the event at the bank, the world has fallen into pseudo-states ruled by a loose grouping of epics. Epics are specially powered people – who universally seem to use their powers as license to abuse and manipulate the non-powered normal citizens. Naturally, a dystopian society develops.
What is good about all of this? I really appreciated the creativity and effort that Sanderson put into the diverse and unique characteristics of all of the epics. I am really impressed with the hierarchies and levels of these powered individuals. I know that Marvel Comics and DC Comics have a long history of scores of creators working to devise and analyze their pantheons of characters, so having as many as developed as Sanderson does is neat.
Of course the comparison with superheroes/supervillians is inevitable. If readers dislike this category of fiction, then they will probably not love this series. However, for anyone who likes the superpowered world of comics – but wants to read something other than graphic novels/comics – this is a really fun read. And, at the end of the day, everyone (yes, even you!) is a fan of Batman and Superman, Spider-Man and Thor. It is okay, I promise not to give away your daytime alter ego: “literary fiction” reader. *wink*
David, however, is such a charming and realistic character that I could not help rooting for him. Sanderson nails the teenage-kid-who-wants-to-fit-in stereotype. David is no weak sap, though. He is a dedicated hard worker – even if he has the most comical difficulty with metaphors. We get a lot of inner monologue from David – but it is not droning and hapless. His interactions with all of the other characters is extremely well done and his motivations are reasonable and consistent.
Also, one of the better aspects of the novel is how Sanderson allows the characters to question what they are doing and how they are doing it. This novel is about the resistance fighting the established tyrant. It is a dystopia – people work in factories, live underground, and supplies are limited. Yes, this is all a very VERY well-tread plot. However, along the way the characters question if what they are doing is, ultimately, a benefit to society. The characters do question their motives and their actions. David develops a more nuanced and significant view of his world throughout the novel.
David does seem to have a slight preoccupation with guns. Throughout the novel he talks about them and identifies them and debates their various components. A number of readers have expressed their dislike of this aspect. They suggest that David (Sanderson?) has too much “gun-love” in the story. Well, he is an eighteen year old kid on a revenge mission in a dystopia wherein he is fighting with the Resistance forces. He is not going to talk about bonbons or potpourri, right? David also discusses the tech pieces that the characters utilize. Much of the gun talk is in the same vein – tools to be used.
Even though the storyline is generally familiar, there is a lot of suspense and intense action that make the story a fun and exciting read. Impressively so, actually. I mean, David’s improvisations, the Reckoner’s plans and schemes, the characters and their foibles, all occur with a natural pacing inside a huge action thriller. There is not a lot of heavy literature here, but I think the majority of readers will enjoy this one. Yeah, I’m reading book 2!