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
with a little bit of that:
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.
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.
“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.