So, after reading The Fifth Season, a major book hangover took hold of me. I tried reading ten different books that I had all been looking forward to, but nothing seemed right. Instead, I decided to pick something completely different from Jemisin’s magnificent post-apocalpytic novel. And because I knew it would be exciting and could be read quickly, I went for Brandon Sanderson’s superhero series. This was exactly what I needed to get me back on my reading feet, so to speak.
by Brandon Sanderson
Published by: Gollancz, 2013
Ebook: 384 pages
Series: The Reckoners #1
My rating: 6/10
First sentence: I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.
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.
This book has all the ingredients for a Hollywood blockbuster. Unfortunately, it also has about the same amount of depth. So one day, out of the blue, superheroes appear all over the world (although of course mostly the USA, because the rest of the world is not interesting, right?) but instead of being vigilantes helping keep the peace, they turn to evil and make the world a really shitty place.
I had a whole, level-headed review prepared but I deleted it all because I need to rant a bit. I liked the book for its entertainment value, don’t get me wrong. But I get the feeling that either Sanderson’s heart is not in this series as much as in his Mistborn universe or the Stormlight Archive, or he took this whole “writing for a teenage audience” thing a step too far. Because comparatively, this book reads very dumbed down. Sanderson can do better!
So, one day, supervillains popped up all over the world. But is it all over the world? The setting of David’s story is Newcago (a name so stupid it made me cringe every time it came up) and, from reading this book, it seems like the rest of the world doesn’t really exist. There are mentions of other places in the USA and, I believe, Paris comes up once. But there is no clue as to how the rest of the world coped with this event. We learn that Steelheart, the strongest of the Epics in the area, rules over Newcago. The pecking order among Epics is pretty clear. Those with the stronger powers (or better hidden weaknesses) are on top, while lesser Epics either work for them or die trying to take over.
But, again, what about other places? I didn’t really expect to find long explanations of how other countries handled the Epic problem but there isn’t even the slightest hint as to the effects Calamity had on the rest of the world. I very much doubt that the entire globe would react the same way (because duh). There must be places with a higher or lower Epic density, there must be safe havens without Epics, there must be cities and countries that work completely differently. Alas, we don’t know because America is all we get.
Fine, world-building rant out of the way, let me move on to the characters. They are your standard Ocean’s Eleven, heist story, Mission Impossible crew. One boss with a sinister past, one hacker, one gun specialist, one hot girl (who, OF COURSE, is the protagonist’s love interest), and so on. David joins the Reckoners almost by accident and manages to sway their plans so easily, it makes them look like fools. Now it’s all about David’s revenge on Steelheart for killing his father. To achieve this, they have to get rid of some other Epics first. And this part, the actual plot, was pretty gripping. There are edge-of-your-seat action scenes, moments of bonding between the characters, and secrets. Lots of secrets.
Some of these secrets are blatantly obvious which makes me think even more that Sanderson dumbed down his story on purpose. I know that he can set up awesome twists that are difficult or even impossible to guess. In Steelheart, the clues are all over the place so the surprise at the end isn’t all that surprising. The same goes for Steelheart’s weakness, the one thing the Reckoners need to find out in order to kill him. After so much build-up, after David’s careful, meticulous research, I expected something… well, epic. But Steelheart’s weakness, useful as it may be for him, was pretty meh.
There are some really cool ideas in this otherwise trope-laden story. An entire city turned into steel, cool gadgets, and a Pokemon-like index of Epic’s weaknesses and strengths. The ideas are all there. What’s lacking is depth, in every aspect. The characters are cardboard and, with the exception of the reveals at the end, none of them really seem to have a backstory, none of them had lives before joining the Reckoners. Or at least the author didn’t find it important to show those lives to us. Even David’s past is wrapped up in a sentence or two. I don’t believe that a teenage boy, no matter how set on revenge he might be, does nothing else in his entire life than devote his time to killing one particular Epic.
So, overall, the only thing this book has going for it is plot and fast-paced writing. Which is exactly what I needed after the dense, deep, and truly epic The Fifth Season. So for me, Steelheart was the right book at the right time. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is very little meat to it. It’s fun, it’s a quick read, it has great action and cool ideas. If this book is on your TBR, save it for a time when you want something light and not too serious.
MY RATING: 6/10 – Good