Sunday, November 20, 2016

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson review

    Before I begin this review I should mention this book has been recommended to me about a hundred times by fans of MY books (The Supervillainy Saga). I knew Brandon Sanderson from his work on the Wheel of Time books but hadn't read any of his other works. So, when I heard he had a superhero trilogy. I was intrigued. So, after reading the first novel, what is it about? The best way I can describe it is Superman vs. Batman done right.

    The premise of the book is the world has become overrun with superpowered humans called Epics. Unfortunately, rather than being a bunch of superheroes, they have all proven to be one variety of psychopath or another. The worst of them is the Superman analogue, Steelheart, who has taken over Newcago and turned it into an urban Mordor with an eternal darkness over it. David Charleston, a survivor of one of Steelheart's attacks as a boy, has since devoted his entire life to destroying Steelheart. To this end, he's tracked down what passes for a resistance against the Epics in the Reckoners.

    It took me a bit to get into the universe because decades of X-men fandom have conditioned me to believe when a bunch of humans want to murder the people with superpowers, they're the evil Nazi types. However, in this universe, it really is the regular humans who are trying to get by while invulnerable flying ****bags are blasting them from space. At least, that's the way it is made to appear and the truth is (as always) more complicated than it first appears.

    Once I got into the universe, I really dug how it all tied together. Brandon managed to create a world which really did feel like an interesting comic book setting. Basically, something similar to Wild Cards except even more dark and twisted in its results. It, particularly, reminded me of the Squadron Supreme comics and a much-much better written Wanted. There's only a few references to how badly the world has become outside of Newcago but these little tidbits paint a vivid picture of just how horrible life under a world of evil superhumans might be.

    David Charleston is a delightful parody of Batman meets Spiderman in the fact he's basically an example of just what would happen if you gave Batman's origin and drive to a kid who didn't have Bruce Wayne's millions. David has all of the knowledge and training which he could get without resources but comes off as more dorky than terrifying since this is limited to being a gun-toting superhero nerd. The fact this character works as well as he does is impressive and I swiftly warmed up to the guy.

    I also was a big fan of supporting characters Megan and the Prof. I figured out both their secrets fairly early but that just goes to show Brandon Sanderson did a good job laying out the clues. I also like how Megan deals with David's crush on her, which is to say she acknowledges it but politely ignores it as best you can. That's about as realistic as you can get in these sorts of books. I also like how the Prof is basically a good-guy version of Lex Luthor fighting evil Superman and no one seems to realize it.

    The character of Steelheart is a bit underwhelming as he has very little characterization other than being an enormously paranoid fascist monster. He works fine as an antagonist due to the fact everything in David's life is devoted to destroying him, so it doesn't matter what his idealogy (if any) is. Still, I do think the causally psychopathic nature of the Epics is kind of a storytelling cheat which walls of them as anything but killable enemies. At least, well, at the start.

    The Reckoners are a likable bunch of resistance fighters who wouldn't be out of place in a movie about the subject. I also think the world-building was done exceptionally well. Everything feels like it has an explanation in the book even if that explanation isn't necessarily present. The world feels authentic enough I couldn't spot any holes in the setting and all of the Reckoner's victories felt "earned" rather than handed by author fiat. That's a very big accomplishment right there and a testament to Brandon Sanderson's skills.

    In conclusion, this is a really entertaining book and I've picked up the rest of the trilogy based on my enjoyment of it. It's one of the best superhero novels I've read and I think anyone who loves the genre will enjoy it.


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