Like most of Sanderson’s other works, one of the things that stand out is the “magic” system at use. In Steelheart its a bit easier for him as he’s not stuck to a rigid framework like he built for himself in the Mistborn series or even the Rithmatist and Way of Kings. Each of the Epics have their own unique abilities and while there are similarities between some of them (enough that the characters in the book are able to start to compile a system of measurement) its difficult for anyone not really living in that universe to determine.
Some of the powers range from death simply by command or gesture, to illusion (something I never thought that powerful, but in Sanderson’s hands it really comes alive), to flight, the control of daylight and of course Steelhearts transmutation powers. As you can see, there are many, many different powers in the universe, and the associated weaknesses can be even more confusing – for example the clairvoyant could only be captured by a person that he was attracted to (otherwise he’d always know exactly what was going to happen)! Figuring out the powers and weaknesses (espeically Steelhearts) is one of the biggest factors of this book and both its strength and weakness. Its like a good mystery novel, but you can only ride along as you don’t have any of the clues and can’t really guess ahead. Calamity however … the “event” that gave the Epics their powers? Now that’s a mystery that I really want to solve!
In this Day’s of Future past, dystopian future, the biggest twist is not how and why the Reckoners fight and (hopefully) kill the Epics, but is rather that not one Epic is good. No Superman, no Batman, no X-Men, nobody to stop society being torn apart into fractured dictator states.
Characters & Story
OK so now lets meet the main characters in the story … I’ve spoken briefly about David Charleston. The main character/protagonist, David has dedicated his life to learning about the Epics, what powers they have and what are their weaknesses. He is an engaging character – someone you root for – and while he’s supremely geeky (& intelligent) he is also quite athletic and capable.
Basically he’s what every comic book nerd aspires to be & his “relationship” with a certain girl only adds to his charm. While his bumbling analogies might make him seem less likable, in reality they give the story a sense of humor and help to lighten the tone.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I feel like a brick made of porridge.”
“No, no,” I said. “It makes sense! Listen. A brick is supposed to be strong, right? But if one were secretly made of porridge, and all of the other bricks didn’t know, he’d sit around worrying that he’d be weak when the rest of them were strong. He’d get smooshed when he was placed in the wall, you see, maybe get some of his porridge mixed with that stuff they stick between bricks.”
David soon joins up with the Reckoners – a mysterious organization led by the Prof (anyone else see Professor X in their mind whenever he’s in the book?) – a group of ordinary humans fighting back against the Epics. While you might think of Patrick Stewart when you visualize the Prof – this is not someone in a wheelchair – he “kicks ass and takes names”!
“The work we do,” Prof said, “is not about living. Our job is killing. We’ll leave the regular people to live their lives, to find joy in them, to enjoy the sunrises and the snowfalls. Our job is to get them there.”
David’s “love” interest in the story – Megan – is a complex and interesting character and her development and growth throughout the story will keep you guessing. I have to be honest I had a guess at what was happening with her and David and while I was completely off base, I wasn’t too far (if that makes sense)?!
While each of the other Reckoners have their own story and character, the Reckoners as a group, David, Megan, the Prof and Steelheart are really the drivers of this book. The way they interact with each other – all I can really say is excellent!
While this is probably a YA novel (vs. his other work), it is not simplistic in any way. While you are rooting for the Reckoners to win, you are not allowed to assume that the death of an Epic has no further impact. The Prof makes David (and us) realize that Steelhearts death will have an impact on the humans in Newcago and potentially throughout the country as while he might be a tyrant, he also brings stability to the area.
Epics had a distinct, even incredible, lack of morals or conscience.
That bothered some people, on a philosophical level. Theorists, scholars. They wondered at the sheer inhumanity many Epics manifested. Did the Epics kill because Calamity chose—for whatever reason—only terrible people to gain powers? Or did they kill because such amazing power twisted a person, made them irresponsible?
They steal. They murder. They take over the world.
As with all of Sanderson’s other works, he excels in world building and action sequences. You can literally see the battles occurring in your minds eye and can completely visualize the beaten and destroyed lands and peoples. Epics have no morals and people in this world can be murdered haphazardly whenever an Epic feel particularly trigger-happy.
I’ve written a lot about the world he’s created, the characters within it and how they are portrayed. What I haven’t done though is tell you what I think about this book … simply put if you’re a Sanderson fan you’ll love it. If you’ve never read his work before … you’ll become his fan after this book! Really, really good and definitely worth reading.