Review: Steelheart / Author: Brandon Sanderson / Publisher: Gollancz / Release Date: Out Now
The genesis for Brandon Sanderson’s latest novel Steelheart occurred when someone cut him off in traffic. “I had this immediate guttural reaction of, ‘You’re lucky I don’t have superpowers, because I would totally blow your car off the road!’ And I was horrified, right? Because I was like, ‘Where did that come from, that side of me? It’s a good thing I don’t have superpowers!’” That idea joined another he’d already had in mind: “What if the good guys didn’t always have the power?”
Having completed the late Robert Jordan’s mammoth Wheel of Time series, as well as creating the richly imagined world of the Mistborn trilogy, Sanderson has rapidly become one of the fantasy genre's most respected authors. So is Steelheart, his first young adult novel, a worthy addition to his body of work so far? The short answer is… yes!
The story takes place ten years after Calamity, a cosmic event that bestowed certain individuals with superhero-like powers. However, unlike the superheroes that we all know and love, these Epics, as they are called, are anything but heroic. They are capricious, wanton killers who revel in the suffering of others. This is not a world where, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Rather, it's power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
This is evident from the beginning when an Epic, who calls himself Deathpoint, decides that killing customers in a bank is more fun than robbing it. The description of a mother holding her baby as it is turned to dust and bone is particularly disturbing. Deathpoint is rapidly dealt with when Steelheart – the most powerful Epic – arrives and kills him for trespassing in his territory. It’s during this sequence that Steelheart kills the father of the novel's protagonist, David. Vowing revenge, he has to wait ten years before he has a chance to get even, but during those years he studies all the strengths and weaknesses of all known Epics. And David knows Steelheart’s secret, he’s seen Steelheart bleed! During a chance encounter with the Reckoners – the human resistance – David’s research gives him the leverage he needs to join the group, affording him valuable resources to fulfill his self-imposed mission. But does he succeed?
Although this is a young adult novel, it’s a dark, dark read. Death happens quickly and the threat of danger is almost tangible. Yet it is often punctuated by humour in the form of David’s tortured metaphors, which he admits himself he needs to work on, “I feel like a brick made of porridge.”
With snappy dialogue, high-octane action, and a relentless pace, this is a book that throws readers from one tension-filled encounter into another, yet without sacrificing characterisation or plot. Our only criticism would be that, as this is a first-person narrative from David’s perspective, we don’t get an insight into Steelheart’s mind. Just who was Steelheart before Calamity?