Book Review: Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart

Steelheart (Reckoners, #1)My score: 3.5 out of 5

Imagine a world full of super-humans. But instead of great power bringing great responsibility, it only brings corruption . . . and evil. Only a dedicated band of humans, calling themselves the Reckoners, work to find a way of defeating them; the Epics.
David is the only person alive who has seen Steelheart, the Epic who rules over Newcago, bleed. He hopes that secret will be his passport to joining the Reckoners. He has spent the last ten years studying the Epics for a chance at vengeance, a chance to make Steelheart bleed again and avenge his father’s murder. However, David didn’t fully understand what that would entail until he is caught in the middle of a hit on an Epic. David must survive long enough to prove his worth to the Reckoners and somehow convince them that he can defeat the most powerful Epic in the world; Steelheart.
This is essentially a revenge story set in a post-apocalyptic world caused and now ruled by superheroes. Whilst there seems to be a good effort to classify and explain the various superpowers on display, it lacks the hard edge theoretical science to be true SF. The characters themselves comment on this by stating that no one really understands why these people have become supers, though it is alluded to that a huge red comet stuck in the Earth’s orbit has something to do with it, and that the powers and weaknesses are somewhat illogical. The story is entirely contained within Newcago, formerly Chicago until Steelheart, in a rare display of his powers, caused most of the city to turn into metal. Steelheart rules his domain with an iron-fist, destroying anyone who defies his rules, with the highest crime being acts of attrition against any Epic. However, in comparison to other parts of the world, Newcago is a veritable haven, with people generally protected from attack from anyone other than Steelheart’s inner circle, plus running water and electricity and a police force to ensure law and order. The ground level and the high-rises are reserved for Epics and those humans that serve them, e.g. accountants, scientists, engineers, etc. Most of the rest of humanity live underground in subterranean levels burrowed out by people “gifted” with the ability to burrow through metal. “Gifting” is one of the cooler innovations Sanderson has attributed to a rare few Epics. Its kind of the reverse of David Farland’s Runelords, or if you like, the opposite to Rogue’s (X-Men) powers, i.e. an Epic can gift one of his abilities for a limited time to a normal human being.
The story is told in the first person, with David as the viewpoint protagonist, filling in the reader with his encyclopedic knowledge of Epics. David has been shaped by the traumatic experience of watching his father murdered before his eyes by Steelheart and then spent the next ten years of his life gathering as much intel on Epics, whilst trying to keep his head low and working in a weapon’s factory becoming an expert in guns. The supporting cast is made up of the Reckoners, with Megan, a red headed femme fatale that favors pistols over rifles, Cody, a Scotsman from Tennesee with a penchant for wild stories, Abraham, a French-Canadian who provides the voice of reason and superior marksman skills, Tia, a tech wizard with a sweet-tooth for Cola and Prof, the enigmatic leader of the Reckoners.
The writing and dialogue is solid and functional, telling the story well enough with little artistic flair. But perhaps that isn’t so important in the bigger picture of presenting an interesting take on the superhuman mythos. The plot really does come into its own after David has become a fixture within the Reckoners. I found some of the twist perdictabe, nevertheless the execution of these twists and the pacing is faultless, with the big reveal at the end still worthy of the time invested in the book by the reader.
Sanderson supposedly developed the original idea in 2007, but it is difficult not to draw parralells with the plot of Injustice: Gods Amongst Us, in which Superman is tricked into killing Lois Lane by the Joker (just like Herucles was tricked by Hera), who then kills the Joker in cold blood, then goes on to establishing his dominion over the world and all the other superheroes and villains. The Reckoners sound a lot like a dispersed and under-funded version of Batman Inc, with the Prof even doing a good impression of the Bat in his black lab coat and apparell. There are even a few nods in the story to Superman, with David’s dad wearing a Superman tshirt when he is killed by Steelheart, who incedently could be a dead-ringer for the last son of Krypton, and Abraham wears an “S” shaped locket around his neck. Despite these similarities and homages, Steelheart still comes across as an original take on the superhero mythos and will definitely appeal to fans of Tom Reynold’s Meta and the Double Helix series by Jade Kerrion. There is a good chance that Steelheart will be picked up by Hollywood and will grace the silverscreen in the not to distant future. What I would like to see is a video-game adaptation of this book. Would I read the inevitable sequel? Most definitely, yes.

You can also find my reviews on Goodreads.

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