Friday, July 18, 2014


If you've heard of the name Brandon Sanderson, you've probably heard he was the writer of the last few books of the late Robert Jordan's 14-book Wheel of Time series. My husband grew up on that series, the ending of which was just published a year and a half ago, so it was from him that I heard about this author. When I saw an advanced reader's copy of Steelheart, a young adult science fiction book by Sanderson, I picked it up both for the name on the cover and for the premise about superhumans crushing the rest of humanity with their powers and about a group of rebels determined to take them out one by one. Coincidentally, my advanced reader's copy has a praising quotation from the latest author I've enjoyed, James Dashner. And when my husband read the book first and thought I would really like it, that sealed the deal.

Happily, I was not disappointed. Sanderson knows how to write characters, and he knows how to write action, both a must for a story like this one. David, the book's narrator and central character, is an awkward and single-minded but endearing character. His eventual companions all have quirks of their own so that even when the action lags the entertainment does not. If there's any character I liked less than the others, it's the girl, probably because she's written from a male perspective and we don't get to see into her head.

Sanderson is good with the big picture, with what the world would look like with all these evil supervillains, or Epics, controlling it. And he's good with the details: the powers and weaknesses of each Epic, the idiosyncrasies of each character (like David's bad metaphors or Cody's wild Scottish tales), the logistics of a small fight scene or a big battle. It's a pretty large book but actually rather short compared to what Sanderson normally writes. I read it fairly quickly, despite the size.

The set-up for the book is this: Epics are powerful and evil, but they have weaknesses. David is the only person alive who has witnessed Steelheart's weakness, on the day David's father was killed in front of his eight-year-old self. Over the last ten years, Steelheart has ruled as the master of Newcago, where he turned everything to steel and enlisted the help of another Epic to make it always night. Steelheart appears invulnerable, but David believes all the clues are locked away somewhere in his mind, and if he can find and join the Reckoners, a group of rebels who are the only ones defying the Epics, he will attempt to take out the greatest Epic of all.

Sanderson delves into themes of heroism and revenge without coming across as preachy. With just a dash of romance but a lot of heart, this story is more than teenage boy escapism. It's shallowly fun where it needs to be but deep enough not to feel cheap. It's a story that should have appeal for both genders and all ages.

Admittedly, I don't read a lot of books like Sanderson's. For all I know, there's a lot of other similarly good stuff out there. I've read pieces of The Wheel of Time but have been reluctant to dive into that due to the sheer volume of the thing and the world-building. I prefer quicker stories. But this young adult story ended up being just right in length and detail, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy when it comes out. There is also a short novella between the events of Steelheart and Firefight (expected publication in early 2015) called Mitosis, which I enjoyed.

Four out of five stars for Steelheart.

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