Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Book Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Steelheart
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Superhero
Published: By Gollancz in the UK and Random House in the US, both in 2013.

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics... nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience. He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

Why I read it:

My brother (who is a huge Brandon Sanderson fan) bought it for me for my birthday.


My guilty geek secret: I don’t really like comic books. I watched The Avengers, sure. But I’ve never been excited by the source material. So when I realised Sanderson’s latest novel was a superhero one, I almost didn’t read it. However, a 12 hour flight from Auckland-Hong Kong & minimal battery on my Kindle pushed me to finish it in one setting – and I’m very glad I did. Because this book is fun. 

Like always, Sanderson excels at worldbuilding. The universe he creates is beautifully atmospheric. We have a steel city bathed in everlasting night, where tyrannical “Epics” preside over a hopeless underclass. Fashion for the rich has regressed to a style reminiscent of 1920s America. Old-fashioned lanterns are hung from fused light bulbs, because of course electrical fittings were destroyed when Chicago was turned to steel. And beneath the city, there are the understreets: winding steel catacombs that house beggars and the Reckoners, a rebel cell aiming to topple the current government. 

Seriously, this book is begging to be made into a movie. 

The main character was David, an absurdly lucky teenager driven by vengeance. Obsessed by guns and bad metaphors, he studied the Epics and their weaknesses for years. To be honest, I thought the information he collected (details about the Epic’s magic systems, as clever as any of Sanderson’s other magic systems) was much more interesting than the character himself. Another central figure was Megan: a stereotypical badass, oozing sex appeal. I found the relationship between David and Megan puzzling – why would a woman that ‘perfect’ have time for a reckless teenage runaway? Other side characters were better, but also slightly one dimensional. 

Still, the fast-paced plot (and the setting! Oh the setting!) more than made up for the characters. Not to mention that the ending was action-packed, including a couple of well-telegraphed twists that were a pleasure to read. In conclusion? This was a very entertaining novel, and not just one for superhero devotees.

The Cover:

The British cover – meh. It shows the city from the distance, but you can’t tell that it’s steel (one of the most interesting things about it). The figure in the middle just screams superhero too; a definite turn-off for me, as I’ve never enjoyed comic books. The American cover has more personality. Sparks flying from a ripped-open steel wall, dramatic lighting, hints of the everlasting night. Although I don’t know who the central figure is meant to be – surely not our nerdy protagonist?


  1. I've been wanting to take a look at this one because I'm a fan of comic book movies, as opposed to comic books. So I'm a 'fangirl' in that sense, although I've never picked up an actual comic.

    But these boom sounds like it would be right up my alley as I'm fascinated by superpowers. I was shocked when I saw this book with the American cover on my book fair because nothing about it said superhero, so kids who are into those books would have no clue. So for that reason, I prefer the British cover.

    Adding to want to read list.

    1. Good point regarding the covers. I think almost everyone uses them to judge their next read (at least partially) so a book like this probably wants to telegraph its content.

      I personally thought the superpower aspects of this were brilliantly conceived. I hope you enjoy it!