Delacorte, 2013, 384 pages
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 will.
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.
Brandon Sanderson only seems to have one story in him, but he's very clever about retelling it with different faces and settings.
Here is the story: plucky protagonist with a tragically heroic motivation is stuck in a crapsack world ruled by a villain with godlike powers. Protagonist teams up with a clever band of fellow rogues who are dedicated to bringing down the Big Bad, even though it is utterly impossible, because it is the Right Thing to Do. The rogues are largely a collection of personalities defined by quirks and catchphrases. They will banter their way through a series of Ocean's Eleven-escque escapades, using corny made-up swear words (because Brandon Sanderson has this Mormon no-swearing, no-sex rule) while the protagonist spends his time figuring out the rules of the magic system. Then they face the Big Bad and defeat him with the Power of Heart (and the protagonist finding a loophole in the rules).
This describes pretty much all Brandon Sanderson novels I have read so far.
But I liked Steelheart, even if I liked it better the first time I read it, when it was called Mistborn. Because yo, superheroes.
In Steelheart, a light appeared in the sky ten years ago. Called "Calamity," it gave people superpowers. The twist — there are no heroes. All "Epics" are evil.
David watched Steelheart, the most powerful of all Epics, kill his father. Steelheart then took over Chicago, and ten years later, the world is a dystopian hellhole, with "Newcago" being a marginally better place to live than most because there is actually food and an economy and electricity and running water. You just have to live with an invulnerable god-like ruler who randomly kills people to demonstrate his power.
So besides being a retelling of Mistborn ("Newcago" even replicates the sunless, plantless world of Mistborn, as Steelheart literally turned the environment to metal, and one of his minions has permanently blotted out the sun), Sanderson did one other thing in Steelheart: he makes Comic Book Guy the hero.
The nineteen-year-old protagonist, David, is a comic book geek, in a world where comic book characters are real. Despite growing up in a Dickensian dystopia, he manages to collect information about every Epic around and becomes an expert on their powers, tactics, and weaknesses. He's like that guy who memorizes everything in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Never mind that in this world, the characters he's memorizing are real and he has a practical reason for obsessing over them (he wants to kill them); even the other characters call him a nerd.
The fun in Steelheart is mostly figuring out the puzzles. Sanderson leaves clues throughout the story — largely related to how Epic powers work, what is Steelheart's weakness, and who the secret Epic(s) are. I saw all of the twists coming and figured out most of the clues, and I found the good guys' victory at the end to be a bit of a cheat (Lamest. Loophole. Ever.) but meh, it's Young Adult.
It is the first in a series. Of course. I may read the next one if it sounds interesting enough, but it's not a must-read.
Have you read Steelheart?
Have you read any other books by Brandon Sanderson?
Verdict: Steelheart was a fun read. Brandon Sanderson doing superheroes will appeal to you if you like superheroes and/or Brandon Sanderson and are willing to overlook the limitations of both. It is not his best work, nor is it his worst, and likewise it's neither the best nor the worst superhero novel I've ever read (I have read quite a few).
Also by Brandon Sanderson: My reviews of Elantris, The Mistborn trilogy, The Alloy of Law, and The Way of Kings.
My complete list of book reviews.