Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson

Released September 24, 2013
384 pages
YA / Fantasy / Superheroes

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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 wills.

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.

I never had read anything by Brandon Sanderson before though I’d come across his name more times than I could count. He’s one of those authors that people assume I’ve read since I’m such a fan of YA fantasy. He gets showered with accolades and fan praise everywhere I look. So add in that his newest book involved superpowered humans, epic evil and an awesome cover, and I thought it was about time I finally dove into the greatest that was Brandon Sanderson’s fiction.

Sanderson is a really good writer with speedy pacing, vivid characters and the capability of making the fantastical seem probable. He’s also a very stylized writer, which is a great thing for anyone writing fantasy but it’s always hit or miss with a reader on if the “stylization” fits. Unfortunately a lot about Sanderson’s style just didn’t work for me. It started with the relabeling of Chicago to Newcago once it was a city of steel hundreds of feet into the ground and grew as the protagonist went on numerous pointless internal monologues that made me want to slap him in the face.

Steelheart has an appropriately epic start – a flashback to a decade before when the Epics have only just arrived. These people with super human powers seem to be causing a lot of trouble, but David and his father believe that equally powerful good people will come to save the day. While David and his father are at the bank begging for financial assistance, an Epic bursts in and starts turning people into ash at will. When Steelheart bursts in, they believe they are saved until Captain Crazypants goes ballistic and turns everything and everyone into steel after a stray bullet causes his cheek to bleed. Seven-year-old David is the only one who makes it out alive.

Ten years later David is seeking out a group of vigilantes that are trying to take the Epics down, one by one. When their latest plot goes wrong, he steps in to save it and gets himself into the group due to his obsessive research of all the Epics. He’s plotted how to kill Steelheart for the last ten years after watching the superman smash his father into a column and shoot him with his own gun. This obsession proves useful and what follows is a lot of plotting, some backstabbing, many chase scenes and a breath-stealing ending that is near perfection in execution.

So why did this book leave me so “blah”? The entire book is told from the first person POV of David, a teenage boy living in the steel underground of Newcago, relying on wits and a small stipend given to him upon “graduating” from the factory he worked in growing up. I usually enjoy male protagonists because so many of the books I read are from a female point of view. Unfortunately I spent a good portion of David’s story wanting to slap him across the face. He talks in bad metaphors that make no sense. This is a fact discovered early on and something that Sanderson decided to glomp onto and beat into the ground until you couldn’t even see the dust left behind. He has entire mental diatribes about how bad he is at metaphors throughout the book and I wished someone would slap him so that he’d become focused on what was going on in the story again.

I can see why Sanderson has so many fans. His secondary characters are fascinating and quickly distinguish themselves with quirks and character traits that make them unique. There’s the southern sharpshooter, who speaks in Scottish colloquialisms. There’s the soft spoken French Canadian who carries a giant gun. The mysterious leader of the group dresses like Neo and has a vaguely grumpy manner while his side kick is a woman dressed in a pantsuit that binge drinks soda while doing copious amounts of research. They are all distinguished early on in their introduction and even though the filter of David’s mind, they are all very enjoyable.

It’s unfortunate that David’s internal voice bothered me so much because the story itself is really intriguing and the world Sanderson created is a lot of fun. He added twists that surprised me and created an incredibly satisfying ending when I couldn’t imagine the story being able to wrap up any fulfilling way. Of course this is the first of a series, so windows are left open and characters conveniently disappear before everything can be wrapped up nicely. Despite all I did like about Steelheart, the blah-ness I walked away with came clearly from David’s narration and I don’t know if this is a series I’ll choose to continue.