As ever, where Brandon Sanderson shines is in the world building. Sanderson has a real knack for creating unique worlds that run on different principles, following that logic through. This world, while not as disparate as his epic fantasies, compels the imagination. Superhero stories have always held a fascination for me, and, with the Epics, Sanderson has done something wholly new, to my experience anyway, with that concept. The Epics are villains, every last one of them, proving the old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
That premise may suggest to you, and rightly so, that Steelheart gets rather dark. This is not a world of brave, unparalleled heroism, of good triumphing over evil. Even the good guys have dark secrets and motivations. Take, for example, the main character, David. He’s a fairly average teen, except for that whole thing where he’s dedicated his life to avenging his father, with the single-minded devotion of Inigo Montoya.
Steelheart, the titular villain, rules over a Newcago, a Chicago made of steel where the sun literally doesn’t shine. Steelheart and his cronies, including Nightwielder who blocks the sun from the city, keep systems going and food available to the people, in exchange for utter domination. Epics, these super-powered individuals, can do anything to any person without recrimination; the government of the US limps along in some areas of the Fractured States, but the Epics truly have free reign. It’s a horrific picture, rather like humanity has begun involving and Magneto’s crew have subjugated everyone, and there are no X-Men.
Sanderson also proves himself a skilled plotter once again. In every novel, Sanderson always manages to surprise me with something, if not with an actual twist then with exactly how something worked, even if I had it generally figured out. That always makes his books that extra bit of exciting to read.
What Left Me Wanting More:
However, the character-building in Steelheart really left me wanting so much more. In his other novels, I’ve found his characters almost immediately compelling, not just the main characters, but the supporting ones as well. With Steelheart, I didn’t much care for a single character. Many of the problems lie in the narrator, David. He alternates between an encyclopedic knowledge of weaponry and Epics and mindless devotion to his cause of killing Steelheart and drooling over Megan. He instaloves all over the place on this girl because she’s super hot and can fight. Wow, what a solid foundation for a relationship. As far as I can tell, Sanderson’s pushing this ship, but he’s got a lot of work to do to make that happen, because they have no chemistry: David’s a kid with pathetic puppy love and Megan’s…I don’t really know.
Anyway, David. Not only do I not found David to be a particularly interesting character, his narration is frequently annoying. Idiosyncracies help build realistic characters, but, in this case, I feel like David was given one idiosyncrasy and sent on his way like the work was done. That idiosyncrasy: making really ridiculous metaphors constantly, like: “He had a smile like a parrotfish, which I’ve always assumed look like parrots, though I’ve never actually seen either.” What incredibly useful narration there, David! You have just managed to tell the reader nothing on several levels. Congratulations!
Then there’s the Southern Scot, who embodies every stereotype of American Southerners and the Scottish, down to a monologue on the bagpipes that is TOTALLY plot-relevant (SARCASM). This guy, Cody, threw me out of the book every time he referred to individuals as “y’all” and groups as “all y’all.” I’ve been informed that some southerners do use “y’all” this way, but it makes my eye twitch because “y’all” is an abbreviation of “YOU ALL.” IT IS PLURAL. Also, why is this necessary? As with David’s quirk, I feel like the weaknesses of the characterization are largely shortcuts taken to add humor to the novel and make them seem more real and quirky. Sadly, this backfired big time.
The Final Verdict:
Though is thus far my least favorite of Sanderson’s works, he can still world build like few other authors. The Reckoners series will be a good choice for fans of supervillains and world building. More character-focused readers, like myself, may struggle with this one.