Published: September 26th 2013 by Gollancz
Format: Paperback, 386 pages
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There are no heroes.
Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.
Nobody fights the Epics...nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.
And David wants in. He wants Steelheart - the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning - and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.
He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.
The gods have smiled upon us and brought us some Sanderson goodness before the release of Words or Radiance next year! Steelheart is an exquisite accomplishment – all the best of Brandon’s writing, world building and characterisation in an action-packed, diabolically clever book.
While happily marketed as YA, Steelheart will be enjoyed by everyone. Everyone.
Told in first person and thematically very different from Sanderson’s other works, Steelheart is about the emergence of supernaturally gifted individuals, called Epics, that have arisen since the mysterious event called the Calamity. The titular Steelheart is the most powerful Epic in Newcago (Chicago), who rules with a
steel iron fist and is generally not nice. Unstoppable, indestructible, and incredibly arrogant, Steelheart has killed every Epic that has tried to challenge him, so what chance does our hero David have of defeating him? But David has a secret: he’s seen Steelheart bleed, and will stop at nothing to see him bleed again.
David’s a pretty cool protagonist, although his insufferable arrogance failed to amuse me as much as I suspect it was meant to. He knows what he’s talking about, believes in himself and his research, and has clear, believable motivations and reactions. In joining the rebel group the Reckoners, he’s a little out of his depth, but he refuses to see it. Which is great when he’s arguing his case to them, why they should let him into their secret club, but annoying when he’s convinced he can drive heavy/fast vehicles with no experience at driving at all. I guess we’re meant to shrug it off as male arrogance, but it’s not funny, and plagued me throughout the novel.
I really liked the whole secondary cast – the people who make up the Reckoners cell are amazing. Their leader is the enigmatic scientific genius (the Prof), Abraham works with the technological devices, Tia on the research, Meghan on information gathering and Cody on everything else. The supporting cast is varied and well developed, as expected, and they were all unique enough that they each stood out. I’ll be looking forward to finding out more in later books. Just between us, I think Cody and the Prof are my favourites.
It’s the world-building that really blows one away in a Sanderson novel, and Steelheart certainly delivers in this department. The powers of the Epics, their consequences and associated weaknesses are meticulously thought out and well conveyed. I don’t think anyone will be able to say they’re confused about the way this world works. There are quite a few unanswered questions, but I feel this is normal for a series.
Another aspect in which this novel shines is the plotting – although there are less planning and discussion scenes than I am used to in Brandon’s novels (a necessary change when writing YA, which tends to demand a lower word count), there is still plenty of action and intrigue. The author cleverly rolls out one piece of information at a time, tantalizing readers and ensuring they’ll always be desperate for more, and refreshingly, this isn’t achieved by keeping the protagonist in the dark about obvious clues. I also like the innovative ways that the Reckoners fight the Epics, and how they’re always learn and putting new plans into action.
Overall, Steelheart has been a pleasure to read, a wonderful change of pace for me. Existing somewhere between YA and not, it will be enjoyed by everyone who picks it up. I’m excessively glad it’s the first book in a series: I’m looking forward to finding out more about the Reckoners, about the epics, and about Firefight – the Epic for whom the next novel is named.