Steelheart is the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s young adult series The Reckoners. The second book in the trilogy, Firefight, was recently released and joined the ranks of the first book as a #1 New York Times bestseller. The conclusion, Calamity, doesn’t appear to have a release date yet.
Even though he was only eight years old at the time, David vividly remembers the day Steelheart appointed himself emperor of Chicago—and changed his life forever.
Epics, people with superpowers, had appeared a couple of years before that occasion. While many considered them to be dangerous, others—like David’s father—still believed that heroes would arise to stand against the villains back then. On the day Steelheart took over Chicago, David and his father were at the bank when the Epic Deathpoint strode in and began destroying people with a simple gesture. David’s father managed to get a hold of a dead security guard’s gun, but before he could shoot Deathpoint, he was noticed by the Epic. As the deadly finger was being raised in his direction, Steelheart’s appearance and displeasure distracted the other Epic. The people thought they were saved—until Steelheart made it clear his problem wasn’t an aversion to murder but rather an aversion to others having the audacity to think they could do as they pleased to the people in his city.
David’s father was unable to comprehend that this majestic Epic was not there with heroic intentions, and he shot Deathpoint when it looked like he may harm Steelheart. Unfortunately, the bullet grazed Steelheart and drew blood even though no other weapon in the room had left so much as a scratch on him. Every Epic, even the seemingly indestructible, has a weakness and David’s father unknowingly stumbled upon Steelheart’s. Steelheart’s reaction to this was to destroy the bank and remove everyone who had witnessed his wounding. Only David escaped, but not after seeing Steelheart shoot his father—and he swore that someday Steelheart would pay for that.
Ten years later, David has concocted a plan to capture the attention of the Reckoners, a group of ordinary people who kill these villainous Epics. David has been studying the Epics for his entire life, and he believes both his knowledge of various Epics and Steelheart’s injury can be a great asset to the rebels. Together he thinks they may have a chance to figure out Steelheart’s weakness and eliminate him once and for all—if he can just convince the Reckoners to accept him into their group and set their sights on a major Epic instead of the minor ones they normally target.
Steelheart is pure entertainment. It’s not the type of book I normally enjoy since it’s light on character development, yet I had fun reading it. It was exactly what I was in the mood for when I picked it up during the busy holiday season—a straightforward book with lots of action and dialogue that jumped headfirst into the story. While it did start to lose my interest for a few chapters in the middle that were leading up to the grand finale, it more than made up for this with an exciting ending that left potential for more complexity in the next two books.
Steelheart is an easy book to pick up and become immediately interested in reading since it begins with the experience that shaped David’s life and his desire for revenge against the titular Epic. It’s easy to feel sympathy for David as someone who saw his father killed at a young age and has been living in a world dominated by unstoppable evil tyrants with superpowers ever since. It’s about the desire for vengeance but also about hope—the belief that just maybe there is something ordinary people can do to fight back against the Epics after all. It’s a simple premise but a powerful one since it is so easy to relate to.
It is also an uncomplicated story in other ways. The lines between good and bad are not blurred since the Epics are universally terrible (although the end does leave some room for more blurred lines in future books). There are some moments throughout that serve as clues to revelations in the end, but they’re about as subtle as a flashing neon sign. It’s obvious which occurrences are important, and this just makes the fact that David seems oblivious to what they mean stand out. He’s supposed to be smart, and he’s studied Epics his whole life—in fact, he has figured out things that an entire group of people dedicated to taking them out were unaware of, yet he can’t see what’s right in front of his face sometimes. I found this hard to believe, and these weren’t the only times I found characters’ actions unbelievable. It also seemed far too convenient to me that the Reckoners accepted David into their group as easily as they did, especially since he was very quickly quite influential. There were reasons for this, but it still seemed like a rebel organization should have been harder to infiltrate than it was.
None of the characters are incredibly deep, even the main protagonist. David is primarily defined by his desire for revenge, his love of weaponry, his in-depth knowledge of Epics, and his terrible metaphors. Personally, I thought the metaphors were overdone to the point of annoyance, although some of them were amusing. He’s always trying to come up with good metaphors but fails miserably by coming up with something terrible. This happens in both his narrative and dialogue with other characters, sometimes leading to conversations about why he thinks his mangled metaphor actually makes sense. It seemed as though these were supposed to be funny, but I thought this was trying too hard to be clever and failing most of the time, especially when this happened over and over again. The other characters are also rather thinly developed, and the more interesting aspects of them involve information revealed at the end of the story. Many of these revelations are not terribly surprising, but it did still make for a very exciting, well-executed ending that may be setting up deeper exploration of the Epics in the next books.
There were some aspects of Steelheart that didn’t appeal to me—an overused narrative device that was more tiresome than funny, predictability and a lack of subtlety, and two-dimensional characters—but it is a (mostly) fast-paced, fun book with an epic conclusion. Despite the issues I had, I’d recommend it to those looking for an entertaining book and do plan on reading the sequel myself when in the mood for a light, uncomplicated book.
My Rating: 6.5/10
Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.