Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson review

    The Reckoners Trilogy is one which I was initially skeptical of. Despite being recommended to me by literally dozens of fans, I didn't know if it would be my cup of tea. I'm a fairly big fan of the idea that superhuman powers would be a net-positive to the world and tend to be on the idealistic end of things despite being a fan of edgy antiheroes. The Reckoners Trilogy is based around the concept of a world which has been devastated by evil superhumans, so it's one which you'd think was fairly cynical, right?

    The first novel, Steelheart, was anything but. Despite the fact it is in a post-apocalypse world where the only remains of human civilization are all controlled by tyrants, I found it to be surprisingly light-hearted and hopeful. The fact it was about a plucky resistance (the Reckoners) against an evil overlord made it closer to Star Wars than Watchmen. I also found out its depiction of superhumans was a lot more nuanced than I initially suspected. The fact the book was genuinely fun helped it as well, so much so that I picked up the second novel as soon as I finished the first.

    Firefight picks up not long after the events of Steelheart with the Reckoners having eliminated the city's former overlord as well as re-established human-run civilization. Unfortunately, they can't capitalize on the momentum because they're under siege by a near-endless number of Epics seeking to claim the late Steelheart's former territory as well as make a name for themselves by eliminating his killers. Things get worse when they attempt to target the city of New York, only to find themselves in over their heads against a water-bending mastermind and a religious-obsessed exploding demigod.

    I've got to say I really enjoyed this book all round. It does what a sequel should in that it doesn't repeat what the original book did, expands on the concepts of the first book, allows for character growth, and shows us new material in the same world. Particularly interesting is the expansion of the Professor's background as well as details about the early days of the Calamity.

    Brandon Sanderson is an amazing world-builder who certainly details elements of his world which would have eluded other writers. Indeed, it is his greatest strength that he can create unique and memorable locations which are internally consistent. The water city replacing New York is different in culture, environment, and atmosphere to Newcago. I liked the idea the people are more or less resigned to the Epics in New York and generally spend all of their lives partying because their masters keep them fed out of hand.

    The villains of Regalia and Obliteration are excellent foils with a lot more development than the previous villain. Regalia is a woman with plans within plans and a twisted code of honor that bends around the psychosis afflicting Epics. Obliteration, by contrast, is completely insane but his beliefs are entirely consistent with the deranged world which have sprung up around humanity. They're wonderful comic book-style villains and watching our heroes play off them is excellent.

    We also finally get an explanation for how and why Epics are given their powers as well as how their minds are shattered beyond recovery. I'm not entirely satisfied with this explanation but think it works for the story which Brandon Sanderson is trying to tell. Certainly, it provides a lot of dramatic energy which the story exploits from beginning to end. It also results in a massive twist at the end which made me buy the third novel in the series immediately.

    The only thing I didn't like about the novel was the romance between Megan and David. Unfortunately, this takes up quite a bit of the novel. David is deeply in love with the treacherous and evil Epic as well as convinced she is secretly good. This is, apparently, purely because he thinks she's hot. Unfortunately, the narrative bears out David's suspicions and it becomes a tedious display of why the power of love wins out over all.

    The action scenes in the book are incredible with truly epic fights that are described well. Brandon Sanderson has a movie director's ability to stage them in his text and an unlimited budget to see them on display. He also manages to invoke tension for all of our heroes because we never know who will die or be taken out of play by the events within. That's a rare gift and one which raises the stakes in the book considerably.

    In conclusion, Firefight is a really good novel weighed down by what TV tropes calls a "Romantic Plot Tumor." Even so, I'm going to say it's an excellent action adventure novel throughout. It strikes the right sort of balance between fantasy, science fiction, and reality in order to feel like a good comic book. I also cared about the characters enough that I wanted the story to continue. Which is a pretty good endorsement all round.


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