Et Cetera

The Words & Writings of Sean Richmond

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Since I first read Sanderson's Mistborn series, I've been a fan. Mistborn took a common fantasy trope, that of the Chosen Hero of the Ages, and inverted it, which made for a pretty fun and interesting read. 

In Sanderson's latest novel, Steelheart, Sanderson once again finds a common trope and inverts it, this time that of the advent of superpowered humans who, in Sanderson's version, are corrupted by their superpowers and become tyrants that rule over humanity. Called "Epics," these beings are sociopaths of the highest order, considering unpowered humans to be insects that they were born to rule.  

We follow David, a normal eighteen-year-old who witnessed his father's murder ten years prior at the hands of one of the most powerful Epics on the planet, Steelheart. In the intervening years, humanity has been subjugated, the United States dissolved into city-states presided over by various Epics, while only a small group of humans calling themselves the Reckoners are brave, or crazy, enough to stand up to the Epics. But they're not rebels, as might be expected; they're assassins, a group of men and women who have spent the last decade learning how to kill beings who would have been called gods in another age. David meets up with this group, and together they hatch a plan to kill Steelheart once and for all. 

Now, I'm a big comic book fan, to put it lightly. I have a small collection of statues scattered across my desk and bookshelves depicting the X-Men in various poses and combat positions, a painting of Jean Grey's first death at the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga, and a collection of issues numbering in the thousands that I still need to catalog and organize sitting in our guest room. That said, I've never really been a huge fan of novels that used comic book themes. Admittedly, this might be because of what we've had available in the past. The only real comic book novel I remember reading is Spider-Man: The Venom Factor b Diane Duane, years and years ago. At least I think that was it, the cover looks vaguely familiar. The book wasn't even particularly bad or anything, it was just... not a comic book. It didn't feel right to read about Peter Parker, and to not see his exploits on the page in front of me. 

So going in, I was rather hesitant. But it was Sanderson, and I was in the mood for superhero antics without any new releases this week. Surprisingly, I ended up devouring the book. 

The book is an interesting change of pace from Sanderson's fantasy fare, told from the point of view of a modern-day young man. David is smart, but not well educated, and has a propensity for coming up with terrible metaphors in his narration that occasionally he tries saying out loud. This narrative style can be entertaining, or annoying, at times, but overall I believe that it works to convey the character's inner monologue well. That given, this feels a lot like a YA novel. Is it actually marketed at the YA audience? I don't believe so, but it has a lot of the earmarks that that was the intention. 

Not that it being written for YA is an issue, really, but it is something to be aware of. Like in his other novels, Sanderson doesn't shirk from death in Steelheart, or from the fact that his protagonists are assassins fighting for their lives. A lot of people, many times people just doing their jobs, are killed by our heroes, and it's not sugar coated. But it's also not overtly graphic, which coupled with the romantic undertones between a couple of characters makes it feel like some of the supernatural/superpower themed YA novels I read twenty years ago.  

At this point, I'm doing a bit of rambling without really discussing the books merits and its pitfalls. Overall, the book is well written, taking concepts that most everybody would be familiar with, and twisting them enough to make an interesting story. While there was a fair bit of plot telegraphing which made me feel rather confident in what the twists would be, they were handled deftly enough that while I was largely correct on the general ideas of what would happen, I was completely wrong on the details, and that is certainly forgivable. 

All in all, Steelheart is a fun ride, if not something that will engage you on an intellectual level, and something that is accessible by pretty much anybody. 

Rating: 7/10