Sunday, December 31, 2023

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

(Originally posted in 2013)

Wowzer! Awesome! etc. etc.

OK, anybody that has read any of my previous reviews of Sanderson's work knows just how much I admire his writing. I've really run out of superlatives to describe his work, both the quality of it and the sheer amount of output he generates. I don't know of any other human on the planet that can write/publish so many books and sustain such high quality. He is simply amazing.

This novel is, of course, no exception. From the very first page, I was absorbed in this new world Sanderson has created. Yes, it's a young adult novel, but the only reason to classify it as such is that the main character, David, is 18 years old. But in every other way, this is a main-stream novel, filled with violence, action, and thought-provoking characters. In essence, this could be called a "super-hero" novel (mostly evil super-heroes) so I suppose that's another reason to classify it as YA. And we are treated to some inner thoughts from David that testify to his late-teenage attitudes towards others and self doubt. But I found them to be very true to the nature of the character, and essential to the plot.

The story takes place here on approximately present-day Earth, about ten years after an unexplained burst in the sky (subsequently referred to as 'Calamity') caused the appearance of 'Epics'. Epics are humans that have abilities, amazing superhero-like powers, and tend to use them for personal gain and power. They are so powerful that nobody fights them. Nobody except the 'Reckoners'. Epics are essentially bullies (bullies with incredible destructive power) but each one has a weakness, and thus can be fought by ordinary folks like us.

OK, that sounds like a plot for a YA novel for boys age 10-14. But I say 'Nay, friend.' This is a novel for all of us. The plot is only the superficial top layering of this 17-layer cake and, believe me friends, this cake has a lot of delicious calories. Sanderson is known for his unique, complex magic systems that he constructs for his novels. So, of course, the system that he has built for superheroes is equally complex and interdependent. He doesn't just come up with weird cool powers and sprinkle superheroes around. Epics' powers work the way they work for a reason and discovering just how they relate to each other is pure fun. And all through this novel (as well as in future novels in this series), we learn more and more about just how well thought out this system is.  

All of that stuff makes for fun reading and good movie entertainment but it's the characters that allow a story to rise to the top and be memorable for months and years afterwards. The core group of characters in this book are multidimensional and each one is intriguing. They are a delight to read about. I cared about each and every one, their roles, their fates. And, due to the high stakes action in this book, their fates are far from certain. Surprises await the reader at every turn; it definitely keeps the pages turning.

So, once again, my hat is off to Mr Sanderson. This is the first book of what is sure to be a great series. And although the main plot does conclude in this one book, it serves as a gateway to many more awesome books to come. 

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