Series: Reckoners #1
Published: September 24, 2013
There are no heroes.
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.
Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart has all the features of a great science fiction book: creative world-building, an enthralling plot, well-developed characters, and thoughtful discussions of morality. However, its most striking characteristic may be the writing itself. Steelheart is so intricately and solidly constructed, from the phrasing of individual sentences to arrangement of the plot, that my English major’s heart was swooning. It has been awhile since I have read a book just so well-written. Sanderson’s style will impress readers from the first chapter. But his skill will hit them again and again—particularly at the moment David concludes relating his life-story for to some new acquaintances. (Seriously, read the book and just wait for the line.)
As stated, however, all this beautiful writing encompasses an incredible story. Readers need not be superhero fans to be drawn into the stark world of Newcago, where all the buildings have been turned to steel and the common folk live beneath the ground in the metal corridors of the Understreets. The sheer visuality of Steelheart is astounding. One easily gets the impression this could have been a comic book or a movie, featuring the dark, sleek city run by superhumans.
Of course, the superhumans, the Epics, are villains in Steelheart, which immediately makes the story unusual and quickly raises the stakes for protagonist David and the band of rebels, the Reckoners, he hopes to join. Do humans have any hope of defeating supermen? This problem certainly makes for a tense plot, as readers never know what to expect or how much to hope for. However, the characters themselves struggle a lot with the question, weighing their options and their duties. Does it make more sense for them to take down minor villains, knowing they are likely to succeed, or should they try to subdue the gods, demonstrating to others that it can be done, that humans should continue fighting for their freedom?
Questions like these provide life to science fiction and superhero stories, and, despite the presence of tons of action and cool, flashy technology, they are the heart of Steelheart. David and his friends confront them every day, just as they must continually confront themselves, evaluating their desires, their strengths, and their fears. Every character in Steelheart has a complicated past, and all of them continue to change and grow, bringing readers their journeys of self-discovery, even as they bring them towards the final confrontation with the dictator Steelheart.
And, wow, is that confrontation intense. (No more on that, so I can avoid spoilers.)
Steelheart is a breathtaking book, fast-paced and unpredictable, and I could not put it down. Initially, I was wary of its starting a series, but the ending of the novel makes the idea of a sequel incredibly worthwhile. I would read anything by Sanderson after witnessing his mastery of storytelling in Steelheart (Elantris is conveniently sitting on my shelf), and I will certainly be reading Firefight when it is released.