I heard of and picked up Steelheart (2013) by Brandon Sanderson because my boyfriend recommended it to me. I felt bad that he was reading all the books I recommended to him, and I wasn’t getting around to those he’d recommended to me.
Anyway, Steelheart is the first book in the Reckoners trilogy. Sanderson imagines a world similar to ours. However, shortly after Calamity (a new star?) appeared in the sky, a number of human beings began to develop superpowers. These people were called Epics. But instead of using their powers for good, like Superman, the Epics use their power to take whatever they want. They fight amongst themselves, and the normal people around them are often collateral damage.
David is eighteen years old and newly emancipated. He lives in Newcago, which is what became of Chicago after Steelheart–a very powerful and heartless Epic–took over the city. Steelheart can fly, bullets don’t affect him, he can kill you with energy from his hand, and he can turn things to steel. The book begins with David and his father in a bank ten years earlier. Steelheart makes his first appearance in the city, killing everyone, including David’s father. David barely survives with a lot of luck and some opportune running away.
Now that David is an adult and free of the orphanage, his one goal is to avenge his father’s death. His wants to hook up with the Reckoners, a group of rebels that fight back against the epics. For a group that is incredibly secretive, David is able to find them pretty quickly. He is helpful enough that they allow him to join their efforts. Together they go after Steelheart, trying to discover his weakness in order to kill him.
On the one hand, this book was easy to read, there was a lot happening, and the action was written pretty well. On the other hand, I was disappointed in the characters and world building. The characters did not have enough detail to make them interesting. Each character had one trait that was repeated in a semi-annoying, unrealistic way. Jonathan Phaedrus (Prof) is the remote and enigmatic leader. Tia is the cola-drinking researcher. Abraham is a very strong Black, French Canadian, and Cody is a Southerner who talks about Scotland a lot. I could easily tell them apart, but none of them felt like real people. I did not care what happened to them.
Megan’s characterization also immediately annoyed me. She is the hot, sexy love interest. Soon after she is introduced, she tears off her super slinky, low-cut dress to reveal a tank top and shorts. Then she breaks the heels off her high heels and runs after the bad guy. So, if the dress was as described, you couldn’t wear another set of clothes underneath. It would show. Also, breaking off high heels–even if you can in the moment with your bare hands–doesn’t make it easier to run after bad guys. The shoes don’t turn into moccasins without heels. They are stiff and shaped oddly. You’d be better off keeping the heels on. The scene reminded me of that Mentos commercial from years ago. I decided the author did not have an understanding of the reality of women’s clothing and was more interested in having his sexy love interest strip in front of David instead of acting more realistically.
Megan was also difficult to understand. She goes back and forth between really liking David and inexplicably being really rude. This is explained somewhat later in the book, but their relationship was deeply unsatisfying. Also, the explanation just brought up a whole new slew of questions and grievances for me.
I found the lack of realism a problem throughout the book. I understand this is a fantasy with tons of beings with magical powers, but they should still act within the rules as set up in the universe. This problem was compounded by the fact that this world was not fleshed out. So, there is an entire city made of steel and it’s dark all the time? That could have been fascinating, but there’s so little detail that while I was reading I often forgot about the steel and darkness. Also, why does Steelheart keep his secret propaganda team on secret floors of the building that powers the city? Is it because that actually makes sense, or because it was the easiest way for the Reckoners to find out about it?
The first chapter of this book drew me in, but I found it to be a frustrating experience on the whole. I don’t feel the need to read the rest of the trilogy.
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