Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chillin' With the Villains - A Review of Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart - by Sam Hock

Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors. He seems to have a new book every couple of days or so, and they’re all well worth your time. He hooked me with the superb Mistborn trilogy, which got me to read the 1255-page monster (in paperback, at least) that is The Way of Kings, and now I’m picking my way through his debut novel, Elantris, at a leisurely pace. These big fantasy epics of his are amazing. I can’t wait for the next one, Words of Radiance. He also has a few Young Adult titles under his belt, but I’d never picked one up before until Steelheart.
This first book in the Reckoners trilogy releases today, September 24th, 2013. It’s the story of David, a young man in the not-too-distant future following a world-changing event: the arrival of the Epics. The Epics are superhumans, much like you would see in the pages of Marvel and DC. (Actually, Steelheart’s Epics all smack much more of DC than Marvel, but you get the point.) The only problem is that while these men and women have extraordinary super powers, they’re all quite evil.
There are supervillains everywhere, and no superheroes to stop them.
This sort of literary thesis is common in Sanderson’s work. He looks into established sci-fi/fantasy norms and asks what if. Mistborn, for instance, opens with the premise, “What if the dark lord has already won?” He picks them apart to see their moving pieces, and builds his worlds out of what he finds. I love that. Turn the expected on its head. Don’t make it a twist, make it a selling point. And here’s the best part: that leaves room for other twists later on. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned reading Sanderson, it’s that there’s always another secret.
Getting back to David’s story, he lives in Newcago, a police state that used to be Chicago until Steelheart, possibly the most powerful Epic in the world, took over. Ten years ago, when the Epics first arrived, Steelheart killed David’s father as David watched. David has made revenge his life’s purpose.
Okay, so it’s a plot we’ve seen before. Sort of like Batman meets Inigo Montoya. But the fun is in the execution, the worldbuilding, the characters. David himself is a fun protagonist. The first-person narration gives us direct insight into his thought process, which is witty and self-deprecating. (He has trouble with metaphors—a running joke throughout the novel.) The cast of side characters is varied and well-drawn as well, from the powerful, soft-spoken Abraham to Cody, a sarcastic good ol’ boy who thinks himself a Scotsman. (I actually saw a lot of similarities between Cody and Wayne, the sidekick in another Sanderson novel, Alloy of Law - but that’s not a bad thing.)
Steelheart is an immensely fun read. It goes fast, especially the motorcycle chase. (Did I mention the motorcycle chase? There’s a motorcycle chase!) It’s out at your local bookstore today, and Sanderson is hitting the road on his book tour. Check out his schedule at BrandonSanderson.com to see where he’ll be near you!

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