The main idea behind "Steelheart" is compelling and original. Steelheart is the most powerful Epic in what used to be the United States. Epics have super powers that corrupt them, robbing them of empathy and compassion, making them cruel, aggressive,and self-centred. Steelheart is who Superman might have been if he'd enjoyed killing people, wanted to dominate the world and could turn all of Chicago into steel. The Reckoners are a small group trying to discover the specific weakness that each Epic has and use it to kill him or her.
If there had been no more to the book than that, I'd have been pounding through it, enjoying the ride.
But there is more, much more."Steelheart" is a fast-paced, action-packed, young adult novel, crammed with cool weapons, wise-cracking heroes, motorbikes with gravitonics, and lots and lots of explosions. Those things would be enough to make it a great video game concept. What makes it a great story is the thoughtful approach Brandon Sanderson takes to the motivation of his characters, the world they live in, the conflicts they face, and the difficulty of deciding whether an action is right or wrong.
I've been a comic book fan since I first learnt to read (long before the term "Graphic Novel" had been coined.) I always preferred Stan Lee's characters because, powerful as they were, they were always haunted, vulnerable and fallible. I loved that he wrote lines in comic books that could have been Shakespeare. How do you beat "With great power comes great responsiblity."
Brandon Sanderson steps into Stan Lees shoes and makes them his own. He makes you care when people die. His characters are more likely to be driven by a hunger for revenge or a need for atonement or a refusal to bow their heads then they are by an ideological attachment to "truth, justice and the American way". In Sanderson's future world the invulnerable man with the super powers is not "The Man of Steel" saving the world, but a tyrant with a steel heart. His "heroes" are assassins, one step away from being terrorists, with no life other than the violent struggle to kill Epics.
Yet the best thing about Brandon Sanderson is that, as well as having great ideas, he can write. The Prologue to "Steelheart" is all you need to read to know that. You can find it HERE where the author offers it for free.
At the end of the Prologues eighteen year old Dave Charleston, remembering the day his father was killed, ten years earlier, says:
"I've seen Steelheart bleed. And I will see him bleed again."
This sent a Stan Lee shiver of anticipation down my spine that the rest of the book lived up to.
Let me paraphrase that:
"I've seen Brandon Sanderson write. And I will see him write again."
My thanks to Glenn Hates Books who's review convinced me to read "Steelheart". You can find his review HERE
Seven years ago Kaylin was an orphan living in the fief of Nightshade but live was very unsafe because something was killing children and after their death the children were found with marks tattooed on their skin – at the same time these odd marks began to appear on Kaylin’s arms. Eventually Kaylin flees to the Hawk fief and begins life anew. For the most part she is successful but the murder of children has begun again in Nightshade and this time Kaylin is an officer and Hawklord has called her into investigate. Kaylin is a natural choice as she survived the killings the first time and knows the street of Nightshade well. But the Hawklord will not send her in alone instead he will send her with a Dragon and her childhood friend/enemy Severn and now Kaylin must confront her past.
I started this book on audio and at first I thought I was not paying enough attention because I had no idea who these races of people are and I did not understand the history of the Barrani nor the Leontines. After starting over a few times I decided to borrow the book from the library to catch up and you know turns out the information was never there. Listening to this book was a challenge, the narrator does a nice job keeping the voices somewhat distinct but the vagueness of the writing made it difficult to follow along. For example there is a lot about Kaylin trying to kill Severn but I was more than halfway in before I found out why then when we get the why behind why she wants to kill him and even then it does not fully make sense why she would run and not get understanding or ask questions. Then there are other descriptions that I did not understand for example there is a lot of commentary about the Leontines paws being moist or dry but I know nothing about cats is this supposed to be good or bad?? The author tells this story from Kaylin’s POV and unfortunately she is rather ignorant in everything. I guess the intent would be for us to learn along with her and while that has the potential to work in many series it only adds to the confusion in this one.
The story was not all bad, I found myself interested in the world and the side characters – like the fifelord of Nightshade and Severn. I also enjoyed the narrator once I gave up trying to understand and just went with the flow. I will also say the author tried the trick of leaving out details so your imagination can take over and while I appreciate this we need a bit more detail to have something to fill in. By the time I got to the last few hours of the tape I just wanted it over and while I am curious to see what happens with the Fifelord and Severn next time I will read the book and it will be a while before I get around to it.
Disclaimer: I was given a free CD of the book by the publisher via SFF audio in exchange for a honest review.