My review of Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
Is it a bird? Is it a Plane? Is it a 1990’s Rock band? No, its tyrannical super-human dictator, hell bent of crushing the will of the masses! Ridiculous name and all.
The best way I can description the world Sanderson is laying out for us is a bastardised smash up of Watchmen and Superman’s DC Universe. This is neither a good or bad thing but should be taken up on it own merits. We have fantastical groups of villains, though once human have been granted a cornucopia of staggering abilities and instead of benefiting human kind decide to rule it.
Overall the approach works, but due to the whimsical and flamboyant pseudonyms they take for themselves I found it a little hard to take them seriously, even when death and destruction follow in their wake. What’s that old adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”. There are hints towards the end of the book that point to the reasons for this change in psyche of ordinary human to mad men and women, but it I don’t think it will be until the next book we get some answers.
It’s been a while since an opening chapter has captivated me the way Steelheart’s was able to. It was a great introduction to the humanity and guise of the Epics. Cold, remorseless and unstoppable, a world where ordinary humans have no value apart for the amusement and worth of an Epic. Noir themes dominate Sanderson’s world. A city in perpetual darkness, clothed in steel, cold, hard and enduring. A self-fulfilling epitaph for Steelheart’s reign and the humans who live under him.
Sanderson provides the reader with an opportunity to participate (in their own heads at least) in the story by trying to work out certain aspects of the Epics. You come up with wild theories around weaknesses, their history. My own Epic theories, include (no spoilers here):
Steelheart is a fake
David is an Epic
David is like Kryptonite to the Epics
David’s father was Kryptonite to Epics
All the Reckoners are Epics
Calamity the comet is a secret government Satellite
No I don’t think Aliens are involved.
In contrast to the heavy subject matter of human subjugation and world domination there is still a lightness to the characters and story that I found surprising. The banding together of individuals trying their best to make a difference in a world turned upside down and David’s continual attempts at terrible analogies are a great source of humour.
The attention to detail and sharpness in the action scenes both small and large is well planned and executed. The final confrontation keeps you glued to the page and it is difficult to try not to surge ahead too fast or skip anything to find out what happens next.
There were some elements that didn’t come across well or gel coherently for me, the biggest one being a concept that many of the Epics’ powers break the laws of physics, which I found a little hard to take. If we are talking about a story that involved a level of magic I could accept this, but this is not the angle Sanderson is taking. Laws of physics should be bent, not broken. This also leads to the inclusion of Epic based technology. If people couldn’t understand how Epic powers works, how can you replicate that same thing in a piece of technology? Laws of physics appear to be flexible when it comes to the Epics, but laws of reason seem to also have been dismissed. Every Epic has a weakness, away to cancel out their power. Some are mundane, some completely ridiculous: standing in the shadow of a righteous man on a Tuesday wearing a leopard skin bikini hopping on one leg. That may be a bit of an exaggeration but there are some strange ones listed. Not sure what angle is being taken but I hope there is more of an explanation coming, as so far it makes zero sense.
Strength, speed and immortality are a few of the Epics powers, but ridiculously stupid evil villain names like Conflux, Deathpointer, Pink Pinkness: I am not sure whether to laugh or cry. I say laugh as it’s got to be some strange homage to Stan Lee. I will be honest, I went into this book not expecting to like it and came out pleasantly surprised. Don’t dwell too long on some of the comic book silliness and you will be pleased.
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