Review: STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson

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.

Have I mentioned recently how much I love superhero tales? It’s true. When it comes to movies, I’m generally more interested in the alter egos than the heroes themselves, but I love superpowers in my books. I haven’t read anything by Brandon Sanderson before, but when I heard Random House would be giving out copies of Steelheart at BEA, I made sure I was in line plenty early.

Steelheart is the second book I’ve read in the last month or so that focuses on the corrupting force superpowers can have on human nature. Some sort of red something (we aren’t told what) exploded in the sky when David was eight, turning ordinary humans into superpowered egomaniacs called Epics. The most invincible of these egomaniacs, Steelheart, sets himself up as the evil ruler of David’s hometown, Newcargo. In the process, he murders David’s father, as well as a bunch of other people, thereby sending the young boy spiraling into a life dedicated solely to avenging his father’s death. David, along with a group of human rebels with a cause known as the Reckoners, must take down one of the most powerful beings the Earth has ever faced. Sounds awesome, right?  However, Steelheart didn’t play out exactly as I expected.

Something I didn’t expect: David

I thought he’d be  a little bit of this: inigo montoya

with a little bit of that: 

Instead, he was more this: jimmy olsen

mixed with that: fishlegs

My exact words in my notes were “Gosh, he’s such a sidekick” and later “So clever yet so eager and naive.” As eager and bumbling as stubby-legged puppy, David’s forever bounding after the Reckoners in an attempt to earn their approval. Instead of being the hardened, keen man I would expect an orphan with a vendetta to be, David is full of good intentions that often run afoul of reality. He looks to the Reckoners with unabashed awe, especially Professor and Megan, whom he thinks are god-like in intelligence and smokin’ hot, respectively. I also found his inability to compose metaphors to be distracting and unnecessary, though I did like the one about being a gorilla at a buffet. Points for that one.

Something I liked: David’s Epic classification system

As much as the classification system pushed David further into eager Jimmy Olsen territory, it also made him humorous and legitimately useful. Among themselves, the Reckoners already have a planner, a tech geek, an enforcer, an arms guy, and a point woman. They are a cohesive fighting force with no need for an extra member, but David brings to the table an encyclopedic knowledge of their enemies and their carefully kept weaknesses. I loved learning about their various Epics and would eagerly pick up a tie-in field guide type book if one were ever made.

Something I didn’t expect: Epic presentation

I suppose I can understand the urge to give themselves pompous superhero names. I mean, if I had a cool power, I’d want a name like “Nightwielder” or “Steelheart,” too. But capes? Really, guys? You’re going to wear capes? I don’t care who you were pre-blast; you can’t tell me you haven’t seen The Incredibles. For a group of beings who live to strike fear into the hearts of mortals, they pick a really crappy way to do it.

no capes

Something I liked: The action!

Steelheart has some great action scenes. There are enough gunfights, explosions, heists, and twisty motorcycle chases to keep the most easily distracted reader happy. This book had a very summer action movie quality to it, and there’s nothing I like better in my summer movies than a loud, shiny explosion.

Something I did not like: The romance

David is stuck on Megan from the moment he lays eyes on her. She’s gorgeous, so why not? She’s also kick-butt and tenacious, which helps. However, she spends the entire book being cold and downright rude, so I never understood why he insisted on worshipping the ground she walked on. When the author attempts to manufacture an emotional scene near the end of the book, I shrugged.

Something else I really did not like: The lack of internal logic

You know what I like in my books? Logic. I like things to make sense. I like it when plot points are explained in a plausible and consistent manner. Do you know what I do not like? Random happenstance. So, for instance, when a random red light burst thing appears in the sky, I expect it to be explained to me at some point. I accept that the characters may not know what it is, but I expect an attempt at a hypothesis by the end. When it’s stated that humans are randomly granted superpowers and even more randomly granted bizarre, inexplicable weaknesses, I expect at least a teensy bit of effort in making some sort of pattern. Even if the pattern isn’t correct, trying to form a scheme out of a random scattering of points is what humans are good at. It’s what we do. So ending the book without a single dang answer about anything at all makes me RAGEY, and do you know why?

Because it’s lazy. It’s just plain lazy. Because rather than work to make sure everything lines up the way it should and jives in some semblance of logic, by declaring everything to be sheer randomness, the author guarantees that he has to do the minimal amount of world-building or fact-checking. It’s freaking annoying, and I don’t like it. Do you know who didn’t do that? Victoria Schwab. Victoria Schwab wrote another book about superpowers and the abuse of power, and she gave random talents to random people, but then do you know what she did? She went back and made sure her characters used their brains. They used their brains and put together working theories that MADE SENSE. By the end of the book, we as readers were given a clear picture of how the super-beings came to be and why they received the specific powers that they did.

Do I expect every book to give me a theory that can be as clearly worked out and proven as the one in Vicious? No. But I expect the author to make a dang effort in the right direction rather than flap his hand and go “Meh. It’s all random. C’est la vie.” Because unchecked random happenstance spawns other effects of laziness, such as rampant coincidences and deus ex machina moments, as well as gaping leaps in belief that just won’t cover all the logic holes, no matter how hard we as readers try. For instance, in this book there’s a twist at the end that I approved of. I thought it was actually really cool and exciting, but that twist then cast doubt on the plausibility of earlier events in the book. Suddenly, those earlier events that I had accepted were now being side-eyed, because they no longer made sense. Instead of finishing the book on a positive note, I spent the rest of the day grumpily poking at the shakier parts of the plot.

The Big Takeaway:

Many people on the internet liked this book. Look around, and you’ll find glowing reviews. I liked this book, but I was also disappointed by the wasted potential. It’s a fun middle-of-the-road book, but not what I had expected from Brandon Sanderson after all the things I’ve heard about his Mistborn series. I’ll check out the sequel whenever it comes and keep my fingers crossed that the next book will answer some of my more outstanding questions.

Favorite Quote:

“Assuming Steelheart doesn’t just chase us down and shoot the copter out of the sky,” Prof said.

We fell silent.

“I believe you said I was a downer?” Abraham asked.

“Sorry,” Prof replied. “Just pretend I said something self-righteous about truth instead.”

Points Added For: The Superman nod, that epic (haha) classification system, the underground city, Fortuity’s noir setting

Points Subtracted For: David’s utter helplessness, Megan’s characterization, the illogical plot holes, capes

Good For Fans Of: Michael Bay movies, Jimmy Olsen,

Notes For Parents: Language, violence, death

Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

17 Responses to Review: STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson

  1. Jenn September 23, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    You had me at ‘Jimmy Olson.’ So it would probably be a good idea to read Steelheart first then Vicious to keep me from making comparisons?

    • Shae September 23, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

      Yeah, probably. Enjoy Steelheart for the somewhat fluffy, explosion-packed romp that it is and then get your meat-and-sadistic-potatoes with Vicious.

  2. Kriti September 25, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    I’m a huge fan of Sanderson, but I haven’t read Steelheart yet. I just wanted to say that Sanderson is usually borderline obsessive about details/logic in his work, so if the answers aren’t in this book, they will definitely be in the next one. He’s really good at setup. That being said, individual books have to work by themselves too, not just in a series.

    • Shae September 25, 2013 at 9:49 pm #

      I hope so, I really do.

      • TML October 15, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

        Note that the third book in the series will be called “Calamity” – I expect all the answers you’re so anxious over will appear before the end of that novel.

        • Shae October 15, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

          I would have settled for just one or two before the end of the first book. Or even working hypothesis.

  3. Ashleigh Paige September 26, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    I was going to try and say something engaging, but your review pretty much took all the words out of my mouth. David was so irritating and the expectation that we should just go with the worldbuilding/internal logic even when it made no sense whatsoever made the book feel much longer than it really was. Great review, Shae!
    Ashleigh Paige recently posted…Blog Tour Stop! Review, Top 5, and Giveaway: No Angel by Helen KeebleMy Profile

    • Shae September 26, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

      Thanks, Ashleigh!

  4. Jeff September 26, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

    I’m interested in the plot holes you were talking about, I read it and felt everything was pretty kosher. Don’t worry that you’ll be calling me an idiot or anything i’m just genuinely interested in what i overlooked or assumptions i made. Also I second the motion Kriti made about the logic being slowly released in successive books.
    Does anyone know the release date for Firefight? or how many books the series is? I saw that it’s 20% done and that it’s a trilogy but i cant really back up any of that.

    • Shae September 27, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

      I don’t want to talk about spoilers in front of my readers, but I had some issues with the way things with Fortuity and Megan went down, especially given what we learn later. And according to Goodreads, there are three books in the series (Steelheart, Firefight, and Calamity) and all we know is that the second is set for sometime next year.

  5. Michael September 28, 2013 at 12:54 am #

    What is sounds like, is you gave it a negative review because you had expectations of what the characters should be (which are extremely stereotypical) and they ended up being written differently than what you wanted them to be.

    As far as things not being explained, like calamity (glowy red thing that gives people powers), that will be explained in the sequel. Oh yeah, if you paid attention, you would see that there is going to be a sequel. Have you read Harry Potter? Ya know how in the first book, it isn’t explained how harry managed to survive Voldemort’s attack? Yeah, it was left for the sequels.

    • Shae September 29, 2013 at 9:31 am #

      You’re correct. I wanted the characters to be much cooler and realistic than they were. I couldn’t connect with any of them nor could I understand many of their choices. As a reader expecting a quality story, I was disappointed, and since I know others (though not all) will feel the same, it’s my duty as a reviewer to give them a heads up. That’s one of the functions of reviews. 🙂

      Actually, I haven’t read Harry Potter, but I have read hundreds of books that walk the fine line between saving information for a sequel and keeping the reader completely and annoyingly in the dark. I don’t expect all the answers, but I do expect some.

    • Gillian September 30, 2013 at 11:58 am #

      Wow. This is a really rude and harsh comment. Shae was perfectly articulate in expressing why this book didn’t work for her. I enjoyed the book more than she did, but I agree with her wholeheartedly on all the things she pointed out. And I don’t think Shae was rooting for stereotypes at all.

      And using Harry Potter in this instance is foolish. Having a “mystery” left for second books is not the same as having a “plot hole”. Please try to expect other people’s viewpoints a tiny bit better, and if you can’t, it might be better that you refrain from commenting on other people’s posts.
      Gillian recently posted…Review: How to Love by Katie CotugnoMy Profile

      • Christina (A Reader of Fictions) September 30, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

        Yeah, I really don’t get where the stereotypes thing was coming from at all. I read this and wanted the characters to be less crazy stereotypes, so….

        Plus, at the end of the first Harry Potter book, Dumbledore presents a new theory for why that happened. It might not be the WHOLE reason, but it’s progress of a sort and does at least make the reader feel like they’re learning something.
        Christina (A Reader of Fictions) recently posted…Review: The Bride Wore Size 12My Profile

  6. Aznan September 30, 2013 at 12:46 am #

    Firstly, the place is Newcago (as in Chicago?).
    The story to me was pretty straightforward with several twist that i enjoyed.
    When discussing Sanderson’s work, one has to accept that he writes for the long haul.
    Meaning, no instant gratification. He does not tie loose ends in the first book.
    The first one is always a setup, sure, the anticipation gnaws at cha, but it’d be worth it.
    It shouldn’t detract from the enjoyment.

    • Shae September 30, 2013 at 6:05 am #

      I’m glad you enjoyed the book. Unfortunately, I did not, and my review must reflect that. Different readers look for different things, and it’s illogical and wrong to tell someone what “should” or “should not” affect their enjoyment. As I said, I’m glad you enjoyed STEELHEART, because there’s nothing greater than settling into a book that gets your heart pumping, but you would better serve the author writing your own reviews than arguing about mine. 🙂

      • Christina (A Reader of Fictions) September 30, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

        I’m a HUGE fan of Brandon Sanderson in general, and I do agree that you have to let his stuff build. However, I know from experience that he can do better than this, at least for me as a reader, and probably for Shae too, since we had a lot of similar criticisms. With Mistborn, for example, you don’t know everything at the end of book one, but you have learned a LOT, and the characters are much better developed. Every book can’t be a Mistborn, but the downside is that, knowing an author has THAT MUCH talent at his fingertips, it’s actually going to be MORE disappointing than it would have been coming from a so-so writer.

        I was actually really surprised we didn’t get anything about Calamity in this first book. Certainly I’m not shocked to not get a resolution to that, but I feel like he generally gives more in the first book than this. Perhaps because this one was written for a YA audience, unlike the weightier Mistborn and The Way of Kings.

        It’s great that you enjoyed it and that the loose ends at the end of the first book didn’t detract from the experience for you. However, I don’t think that’s a “should.” It’s really hard to say what one SHOULD enjoy. For example, there’s probably some comedy that most people love and you don’t find amusing. It’s the same principle. Forcing yourself to like something you don’t isn’t easy. You either enjoy it or you don’t.
        Christina (A Reader of Fictions) recently posted…Review: The Bride Wore Size 12My Profile

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