Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Ages 16 & up

steelheart coverTen years ago, Calamity appeared in the sky and granted ordinary men and women superhuman abilities. For nearly as long, eighteen-year-old David Charleston has devoted his life to one purpose: finding a way to kill Steelheart, the epic that murdered his father. When the Reckoners—an underground group dedicated to taking down epics—finally come to Newcago, David knows this is his chance. He’s spent his whole life studying the epics and their powers and now, with the Reckoners’ support, David thinks he can finally crack the secret of Steelheart’s weakness—David knows he has one because he’s seen Steelheart bleed.

My brother—who happens to be a huge Brandon Sanderson fan—recommended this book (I know, I have excellent taste in siblings). Can’t say that I blame him. From what I’ve read of Sanderson, his world-building is intricate in a way that hasn’t resonated with me since I read Lord of the Rings. He impressed me with The Way of King and didn’t fail in Steelheart or its sequel Firefight, though I found the story more accessible in the last two. The minute my brother gave me Steelheart’s, I knew I had to read it.

Steelheart’s premise combines two of my favorite things: super powers and reversal of expectations. In this book, the super-powered beings are far from virtuous. When Calamity appeared in the sky, it didn’t create a race of benevolent protectors. Power corrupts and all that. Clearly, these epics lacked an Uncle Ben or a Pa Kent to guide them down the right path. Sanderson could have stopped right there and I would have been happy, but of course, this is a young adult novel and in young adult novels we like making people questions things. Towards the end of the book (and through all of the second) we see David question his original “down with all epics” stance—not everything is as it seems. Although it’s clear these powers can bring out the worst in a person, David begins to wonder if some epics could be saved. After all, if the Reckoners are ever going to truly stand up to the epics, they need a few who are able to use their powers without giving into the darkness.

I loved how surprisingly diverse and well-defined Sanderson’s characters are in Steelheart. David’s obsession with metaphors was hilarious—especially considering how bad he is at them—and refreshing, I haven’t seen that character quirk before. But Sanderson doesn’t stop with his point of view character, all of the characters I came across were distinct and I connected with them easily (This is really noticeable in book two, when some of David’s old friends get exchanged for new ones). Among the characters Sanderson trots out we have a female rocket scientist, a former fifth-grade teacher, a teenage assassin, and a Tennessee cop with the vocabulary of his Irish ancestors.

Of course, no book is perfect. While I love Sanderson’s world-building and how seamlessly it enhances the story, I was a bit off-put by some of his replacements for cuss words. His characters favored “sparks” and “calamity” as expletives and while the first wasn’t too distracting, I found myself hating the latter. I understand the thought process behind using the word, but I felt calamity a bad fit for this futuristic, dystopian society. It made it hard to stay in the—often serious—moment. I’m usually all for made up expletives (Big fan of D’Arvit from the Artemis Fowl series), as long as they add rather than take away from the dialogue. Perhaps “calamity” might have worked for me in a different setting, but I found myself wishing the characters had chosen silence instead—or just used a more familiar expletive (I doubt humanity would have moved away from all the familiar ones).

I also wasn’t a fan of the number of times David made a big deal about being distracted by the female lead. I understand that he’s a teenage boy, but when your narrator mentions distracting she is multiple times in just the first few pages it becomes redundant. You are straight and male, we get it, can we move on now please? (This was handled much better in Firefight).  Granted, I am not a teenage boy, I’ll take my brother’s word that this is pretty accurate, but still hitting the reader over the head with an idea often ends with their head aching.

Still, despite the few drawbacks, I really enjoyed the first two books and look forward to the release of the trilogy’s final installation, Calamity (there’s that word again). If you like dystopians, comic books, or stories that defy conventional expectations, give this series a try.

This is a good example of:

  • Plot twists
  • Character quirks
  • World-building
  • Dystopian society