Saturday, 28 September 2013

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson is the first in a new series of super-power novels. It's been billed as YA but to me it reads more like an adult book. The main character is eighteen but the other characters are older, which to me doesn't quite fit in with the YA genre. That said, I can think of no reason for teen readers not to enjoy it.
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 wills.

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.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.
In the world of Steelheart, some people acquired super powers and became "Epics". None of them are superheroes, though; they're all supervillains. Fortunately for the ordinary people, the Epics all have a weakness that theoretically allows them to be killed. Obviously, they don't go around advertising their weaknesses, however, and they can be very obscure like "can only be killed by a thirty-seven year-old man".

The titular Steelheart is the Epic who rules over Newcago, the city formerly known as Chicago (lol). He is extremely powerful, bulletproof, able to turn any non-living matter into steel, can shoot energy balls, and no one knows his weakness. On the other hand, his dictatorial rule over Newcago has resulted in a relatively prosperous, safe and well-run city, in the context of a post-Calamity world.

David, our main character, has a vendetta against Steelheart after seeing his father die at the Epic's hand. His advantage is that he also saw his father injure Steelheart. So when he's old enough to live on his own, he sets out to join the Reckoners, a rebel group dedicated to taking out Epics. The story follows David and the Reckoners as they work towards that goal.

Steelheart was an enjoyable read. Sanderson deftly lays clues along the way that I mostly didn't make sense of until the corresponding reveals, or close to them. I like the way he gives hints but not too much information. I hate it in books when I work out the mystery the main character is trying to solve much earlier than the character themselves. It's frustrating, but happily Sanderson avoids that pitfall.

The events of the book are mostly dire and serious, but Sanderson adds a bit of levity through character quirks. For example, David is terrible at metaphors and similes, but persists in attempting to use them anyway (one of my favourites was "like a brick made of porridge" — lol!), and Cody, another member of the Reckoner team, has a strong Southern accent but insists he's Scottish. Given there isn't much else to be cheerful about in most of the book, these quirks provide much needed balance.

Steelheart is a great read and I recommend it to most fans of speculative fiction. Readers who may have been put off by the length of Sanderson's fantasy series — which are mostly BFF — will be pleased to hear that this is a much shorter read, coming in at under 400 pages (according to Goodreads). I particularly recommend it to fans of superhero fiction, especially the darker, less heroic kind. I am looking forward to reading the next volume in the series. I should also note that, although this is a book one, it tells a complete story, without major cliffhangers.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2013, Random House Delacorte US (UK/Aus version with different cover published by Hatchett)
Series: Yes. The Reckoners, book 1 of 3, I think.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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