Thursday, 15 September 2016

#CBR8 Book 98: "Steelheart" by Brandon Sanderson

Page count: 384 pages
Audio book length: 12hrs 14mins
Rating: 4 stars

Because it's been nearly a month since I finished this book (yay, backlogs!) and because the blurb does a good job of summing up the story, I'm going to resort to Goodreads:

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 a 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 has 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. 

The book starts shortly after the appearance of Calamity, when Epics are still are a new thing. David and his father are at a bank, trying to get a loan, when a minor epic attacks, starting to kill patrons and guards, mainly because he can. David's father still believes some of the Epics will take on the roles of superheroes, so when Steelheart arrives and stops the murdering, bank-robbing Epic, he is initially relieved. Until it turns out Steelheart is just there to enforce his new claim on Chicago and wipe out any rival claims. David's father is killed in the ensuing confrontation, and Steelheart makes sure to wipe out anyone who may have witnessed the fact that he was grazed by a bullet and actually injured. David manages to escape though, and realises what a big deal the seemingly minor injury is, when Steelheart doesn't just sink the bank into the ground, but kills any survivors or even rescue workers responding to the crisis.

About a decade later, Chicago is Newcago, a city turned entirely to steel by Steelheart. It ruled by a merciless and seemingly invulnerable Steelheart and his closest advisers, Nightwielder, who keeps the city in constant darkness (no sunlight ever); Conflux, who runs the security forces and provides power to the city, as well as the mysterious Firefight. There are minor Epics who help his reign of terror. Most people live in the steel catacombs under the city and keep their noses to the ground. Any attempts at civil disobedience is crushed by Conflux's efficient enforcers.

David is nearly eighteen, and has devoted spare moment of his life since his father died to researching various Epics, trying to ascertain their unique weaknesses (despite their sometimes astounding powers, all Epics also have one or two fatal weaknesses). He has also been tracking rogue resistance group the Reckoners, who are currently in Newcago. David wants to join their ranks and he wants them to stop just targeting minor Epics, which doesn't actually have that much effect. He wants revenge on Steelheart, and there is no way he's going achieve it on his own.

The gang of Reckoners that David meets, a small cell consisting of the Professor, research whizz Tia, muscle Cody and Abraham and point woman Megan, are initially reluctant to let him join their ranks, even when he proves his bravery while helping them on a mission. Once Tia sees his many notebooks with years worth of research on the various Epics, she warms to him and despite Megan's distrust, David is recruited into the gang. David has a massive crush on Megan, and can't entirely understand why she's so hostile towards him. Eventually, he figures out that she's worried about the consequences to the people of Newcago if the Reckoners and David actually successfully take out Steelheart. The power vacuum that would be created could lead to complete chaos. Maybe the evil they know is better than the chaos they don't?

Brandon Sanderson is ridiculously prolific. Unlike most writers of epic fantasy, he seems able to juggle multiple series at the same time, and seems to publish at least one, if not several books a year. As well as several highly regarded epic fantasy novels (some of which are stand-alone, a rarity among the genre), he's written several things for young adults, such as The Reckoners trilogy, which takes on epic supervillains and the people who oppose them in a creative twist on near-future dystopias.

Steelheart is a quick and entertaining read. It took me a while to get through, but only because I was listening to it in audio. Once the story really got going, I found myself going for longer walks and occasionally even just listening to it at home so I could get more enjoyment faster. Macleod Andrews reads the book very well.

David is an engaging, if dorky protagonist. He really is defined by his all-consuming obsession with revenge on Steelheart, an event he doesn't necessarily believe he'll survive. Several of the other characters mention that he needs to find other things to live for and care about, just on the off chance that they survive the dangerous mission. He also makes absolutely atrocious metaphors, and is deeply sensitive to being called on his nerdy tendencies.

The members of the Reckoners aren't exactly massively fleshed out, and more given one or two defining character traits. Tia is smart and bookish, and has a Cola-addiction (I can relate). The Professor is a genius inventor, but withdrawn, gruff and cranky. Abraham is large, French-Canadian and quite philosophical. Cody is really annoying and keeps making up preposterous stories alluding to his seemingly ever-changing ancestry. He's from the South, but of Scottish ancestry, but also keeps dragging in Irish and Australian. He was probably my least favourite character.

Megan is the youngest Reckoner, before David joins. She's a crack shot, witty, pretty and at least initially teases David good-humouredly. She doesn't like that he manages to convince the other, normally risk-averse Reckoners to go along with his plan, though, and it helps David understand her further when she finally explains her misgivings. Not entirely sure if she was worth being the recipient of David's mega-crush, but she also seems to be the first girl he's really allowed himself to notice. Being obsessed with Epic research and revenge plans will probably cut your potential flirting and dating time considerably.

It may be because this book is aimed at a YA audience, but I found that Sanderson's normally intricate plotting wasn't as tight as it tends to be. I'd figured out several of the big "twists" before they were revealed, which is not something that normally happens in his books. It's a fun, action-packed little adventure story, though, and I've already secured the second book in audio as well, to listen to a bit later in the year.

Judging a book by its cover: I'm thinking the cover is supposed to show David, standing in the steel-covered ruins of Newcago. The various shades of grey on the cover are a nice touch, as are the torn edges of the steel in the foreground. It's not a super exciting cover, but it's not awful either.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read. 

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