Full Disclosure: Brandon Sanderson is probably my current favorite author. I was first introduced to him when I heard that he was taking over the Wheel of Time series upon the death of Robert Jordan. (Side note: This is an epic long-form fantasy series that was fantastic.) After devouring his Mistborn series, I quickly read everything else that he had written and now wait excitedly for any new book to be published. For a quick understanding of what I love about his work, look no further than his website and his blog posts, particularly those on his Laws of Writing with Magic Systems. Don’t be afraid if you don’t read Magic or Fantasy books, they are equally relatable to any science fiction story or any Superhero story, especially comics; the link above is specifically how they relate to strategic thinking. They are manly about what makes a good story and how to structure a successful climax given your premise such that the audience doesn’t feel cheated, i.e. avoiding the Deus Ex Machina. I’ve found them extremely enlightening and highly recommend them. The First Law simply stated is that an author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic. The Second Law is that Limitations provide greater story opportunities than Strengths or Powers. The Third Law is use what you’ve already established before adding anything new.
Steelheart published in 2012 by Random House at 418 pages is his endeavor into Superhero Fiction. I’m rereading this in preparation for the sequel Firefight which came out Jan 6th, 2015. This is a world overrun with superhumans, Epics as they are referred to here. Twelve years ago Calamity appeared in the sky, whether a comet sucked into Earth’s gravitational pull or something else entirely is still to be determined. All anyone knows is that two years after its arrival a small percentage of ordinary mortals gained super powers. These powers are different for each person affected, some only received a single ability, others multiple and more powerful ones. The other thing that everyone knows is that all Epics are murderous, bloodthirsty monsters who have systematically taken over the country. It is now ten years since the Annexation of Chicago by the Epic known as Steelheart. This is the story of one man, who as a boy who watched Steelheart murder his father on Annexation Day, and his quest for revenge. A quest that nears its end, because that horrible event also holds the key to Steelheart’s weakness and if he can figure it out, he can finally avenge his father. But in order to do that, he will first have to find the Reckoners, the only people actively fighting the Epics, and convince them that he deserves to be a member of the team.
I love an amazing consistent self-contained story and those are Sanderson’s specialty. His Epic abilities are extremely well thought out and each have their own specific set of rules, which, while they may violate the laws of physics (as referenced several times in the novel), they are consistent within the rules that have been previously established for them. Sanderson is all about defying a set of rules and using these rules to the fullest possible, as defined by his Laws of Magic. Steelheart sets up a sprawling story with many possible areas for expansion in later books in a vast world only hinted at in this volume. Yet his story is still small and stays focused on his small cast of main characters. In the end it’s a really a human story in a superhuman world about how someone deals with adversity and whether they choose to dwell on the past or find new ways to live their own life. His writing is, as always, fantastic, full of humor and with excellent pacing, you’ll stay up late wanting to keep reading each new chapter. If you enjoy this story, I highly recommend picking up his other works, though the Wheel of Time may be a little much for most people, they all contain the same fleshed out characters and a writing style that is extremely enjoyable to read, I’ve read many of his books multiple times just to reread certain scenes which I still find incredibly funny, some of which are contained in this book. Hopefully without giving too much away, the funny scenes in this book involve analogies and how some people just can’t come up with a good one.
The ending is exactly what you want from the beginning of series. Ties up the main story, throws some new plot threads in, and begins to open you up to the larger world. But it’s the characters that will bring me back. Sanderson infuses them with such personality that I want to know that they will be okay and read more of their adventures. So be fully prepared for a Firefight review sometime next month. There is also a short ebook, Mitosis, that was put out bridging the two novels. It’s only available online and it’s a fairly quick read at only 50 pages, but it is still an enjoyable one and it helps to answer where the Reckoners ended up following the events of Steelheart.
Rating: 5 stars. Andrew LOVED it.
Here’s also a quick essay Sanderson wrote about why Superhero prose novels are difficult and a different animal from straight comic book storytelling.
Andrew McBride is a THN love slave. It’s his time down here, but that all ends as soon as you ride up Troy’s bucket.