Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
An ‘Epic’ Review
In a world filled only with supervillains and no superheroes it’s up to the average citizen to rise up and administer justice. That’s the basic premise of Brandon Sanderson’s latest novel, Steelheart. His penchant for interesting worldbuilding and cinematic writing has paid off yet again.
Steelheart is a story about an average teenager named David. David has to live in a new world, a world that has been burdened with the rise of superpowered individuals. But there are no superheroes in this world, only villains. It’s David’s goal to join the Reckoners, a group of average citizens that banded together to assassinate “Epics,” the term for those with powers. David has seen Steelheart bleed, an experience that was supposed to be impossible. He wants to use that knowledge to join the Reckoners and get revenge for the death of his father.
“The only thing you can see up there is Calamity, which looks kind of like a bright red star or comet. Calamity began to shine one year before men started turning into Epics… Of course, nobody knows why the Epics started appearing, or what their connection is to Calamity either.”
There have been attempts over the years to write a prose story based on superhumans, normally the domain of comic books. It’s a subject that misses more often than it hits with authors spending too much time trying to replicate the comic into prose, ignoring the fact that for those stories the art is an essential piece to the narrative.
Sanderson, perhaps due to his experience writing prose, has not fallen into the same trap. Steelheart is a novel that recognizes its content and doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. This may have something to do with Sanderson’s proclivity to create balanced and well-thought magic systems. Or perhaps it’s due to the non-superpowered David and the Reckoners. Without powers it frees the main POV to not be bogged down in the typical pitfalls authors encounter when trying to replicate the artistic descriptions in prose.
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s a phrase you may be familiar with and it is at the heart of Calamity and the superpowered individuals that now roam the world. David’s father was a man that believed with the arrival of supervillains the heroes couldn’t be far behind. He was a man that hoped for a brighter tomorrow. But the idea that the only evil individuals are granted powers, or perhaps that powers make those individuals evil, is at the heart of the book. It is a secret that is never fully answered and one we’ll have to wait till the sequels to discover.
The book takes place in Newcago, or more specifically Chicago that has been transformed. The ruler of Chicago,
Steelheart, possesses a power that allows him to send out a wave of transformation energy that turned everything in the city to solid steel, including a portion of the lake.
“When the Great Transfersion caused the better part of the Old City to be turned into solid steel, that included the soil and rock, dozens – maybe hundreds – of feet down into the ground. During the early years of his reign, Steelheart pretended to be benevolent – if ruthless – dictator. His Diggers had cut out several levels of under-streets, complete with buildings, and people flowed to Newcago for work.”
As in other books set in an alternate-world Earth, Sanderson has managed to take a standard setting and give it a fantastical element. He keeps the familiarity of the setting but changes enough to make it a new and interesting place for the readers to discover. Tunnels had to be built under the city to provide housing in steel encrusted buildings and electricity is still somewhat an issue as everything shorted out when the transformation struck.
Sanderson’s return to the YA market is filled with his signature worldbuilding and a fast-paced, high action cinematic style that is easy to lose yourself in. Already Sanderson can’t get enough of his reimagined America and a sequel is well on its way for a 2014 release. Pick up Steelheart now and get caught up before the sequel, Firefight, releases.