YA Weekend: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Series: The Reckoners #1
Publisher: Delacorte (September 2013)
Author Info: brandonsanderson.com
Wendy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
When Calamity struck, several people were transformed into superhuman beings–Epics. No one knows the science behind Calamity itself, or how all of these superpowers work, but it is clear that these humans have become gods. And they are not afraid to use their powers to prove it. There are some who believe that the epics will use their powers for good–that they will be the heroes we’ve read about in books and comics. But up to now, they have only proven their capacity for cruelty and arrogance, and at the top of the food chain is the invulnerable Steelheart. But on the day that Steelheart ruthlessly killed David’s father, the young boy saw Steelheart bleed. And that meant he could be killed. Following this event, the story quickly moves several years ahead with David attempting to earn his way into the ranks of the Reckoners, a rebel force of humans intent on taking down the epics in Newcago. David’s obsession with vengeance makes him a dangerous ally and the Reckoners are skeptical about recruiting him, but they are unable to deny the vast knowledge he’s collected of the epics over the years.
First of all, David. He’s a young adult with a quirky sense of humour–as in, he has an unhealthy obsession with metaphors that could be even more dangerous than his obsession with Steelheart, but Sanderson manages to make David endearing, rather than annoying, even when he becomes smitten with the surly Megan. In fact, all of the Reckoners have unusual quirks, including the southerner intent on exploring his Commonwealth heritage through language, and Prof, the typically enigmatic leader who’s obviously got something (obvious) to hide. But they all work well together and within the story, and soon all of them had endeared themselves to me, to the point where I worried about their fates–because Sanderson makes it clear from early on that they truly are all at risk. Often, it’s either easy to see who will die and who will survive along the journey, but Sanderson manages to maintain the tension throughout, and lets it skyrocket into an epic showdown that had me white knuckling the steering wheel as I listened to the audiobook. It’s not easy to write a fight scene, especially one involving so many players and spanning such a large area, but Sanderson hit this one out of the park, right up until the final pay off.
Let me go back though to the Epics themselves. Sanderson is a master worldbuilder and his worlds always come with unique forms of magic. In this case, it’s genetic mutations that have caused people to have outlandish comic book kind of powers. But, while Sanderson does include several theories on how these powers work and how they gained them in the first place, it was interesting to read a story where Sanderson’s magic is not perfectly spelled out to the letter (though I suspect it is in his head. He’s just not sharing because the mystery is relevant to the story). The concept of humans suddenly becoming supers is also an interesting one, though Sanderson chooses to explore the darker side of power.
“I know, better than anyone else, that there are no heroes coming to save us. There are no good Epics. None of them protect us. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Marvel and DC comics have taught us that when radioactive spiders bite us, or when we’re raised by Professor Xavier or Ma and Pa Kent, we’ll always use our powers for good. But is that true? I admit, if I had phenomenal cosmic powers, I’d probably use them for the occasional naughty thing (and also for lots of lazy things because, well, I’m lazy.)
There wasn’t a lot of time spent with the Epics themselves to learn about how things work for them, but following the events of this story, I suspect some of those questions will be answered, and I am eager to find out what comes next.