This book was a lot of fun to read. I'm not a fan of comic books, I enjoy superhero movies, but I've never been a fan of comics themselves because I'm not a visual person. I don't like pictures. I prefer words. For me, this book was the lengthy equivalent of a comic book, and that's just fine with me. That is not to say that I take this book and its themes lightly in any way; comic books can be quite complex, and this book certainly was. It addresses some complex moral and philosophical dilemmas, and as with most of Sanderson's works, there is a considerable amount of depth underneath the standard plot.
The book excels in world building, in action sequences, in the writing. For me, it falls short when it comes to characterization and in consistent execution of a compelling story throughout the book. The middle half was rather boring to me, because I felt it was bogged down by some really, really boring strategizing. It is very much a comic book in written form; the narrator is an 18-year old boy, and a very convincing one. I appreciate the fact that he acts according to his age, with youthful aspirations combined with silliness. I appreciate the fact that while he's got his head on straight most of the time, his common sense is sometimes overruled by his dick, in the silliest of circumstances. I don't like the fact that he is rather too perfect to be true.
Obviously, not all superheroes are good. We've known that before, from countless comic books. Bad guys have superpowers, too, but we didn't call them superheroes then, because in your conventional comic book, they're just the villains. In Steelheart, the superheroes are called Epics, and they're all despicable. An event called the Calamity has occurred, leaving humans with superpowers in its wake. Instead of using their powers for good, these newly created Epics wreak havoc upon humanity. There is no question about it. Every single Epic is corrupted.
Epics had a distinct, even incredible, lack of morals or conscience. That bothered some people, on a philosophical level. Theorists, scholars. They wondered at the sheer inhumanity many Epics manifested. Did the Epics kill because Calamity chose—for whatever reason—only terrible people to gain powers? Or did they kill because such amazing power twisted a person, made them irresponsible?
They steal. They murder. They take over the world.
David watched as an extremely powerful Epic named Steelheart murdered his father before his eyes when he was eight years old. Naturally, he wants revenge, and he spends the next 10 years of his life planning and preparing for it. It's an impossible task, but David thinks he can do it. He knows Steelheart is not invincible. He's witnessed it himself.
Something about the bank, the situation, the gun, or my father himself was able to counteract Steelheart’s invulnerability. Many of you probably know about that scar on Steelheart’s cheek. Well, as far as I can determine, I’m the only living person who knows how he got it.
I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.
And I will see him bleed again.
And that makes David dangerous.
He joins up with a group of vigilante Epic hunters, who call themselves the Reckoners. Together, they embark on a seemingly impossible mission: to reclaim their world from the hands of the Epics. It's a tough job, but they all have to make personal sacrifices for what they believe in, for the promise of a better future.
“The work we do,” Prof said, “is not about living. Our job is killing. We’ll leave the regular people to live their lives, to find joy in them, to enjoy the sunrises and the snowfalls. Our job is to get them there.”
The Setting: Excellent. Newcago is Chicago, gone to pieces. It is dark, it is bleak, people die on a daily basis, they get murdered haphazardly whenever an Epic feel particularly trigger-happy on that particular day, but it is still better off under Steelheart's rule than in most other cities, because at least its citizens have sufficient food, due to Steelheart's odd brand of benevolence. The city and the setting itself is brilliantly depicted. I can feel the darkness, the despair, the hopelessness. Steelheart has transmuted the entire city into solid steel, the soil, the buildings, everything from above to deep underground. It is literally a city shrouded in darkness.
It’s always dark in Newcago. Because of Nightwielder there are no sunrises, and no moon to speak of, just pure darkness in the sky. All the time, every day.
The setting and the world were impeccably described, and I love the descriptions of the various Epics and their powers. The world building is one of my favorite features about this book.
The Characters: Once again, we have a ragtag group of vigilantes, some with rather interesting quirks, and some clearly there to provide comic relief. The leader of the group is the Prof, which immediately brings to mind Professor X of X-Men fame, but far less gentle, far less understanding, far less compassionate, because there is no time for that shit here. The Reckoners have a mission to fulfil, and there's no room for fucking about.
Our narrator is David. You know those kids who memorize the players and their respective stats for their favorite sports teams? David is a similar type of geek, only his hoard of information is related to the Epics themselves. That is his strength, and his major contribution to the team. In his quest for vengeance, he has devoted his time to collecting every single bit of information he possibly can, and despite the Reckoners' reluctance to admit him onto their team, his trove of information proves to be invaluable to them; thanks to his "resume," he becomes a Reckoner. He is a rather amusing narrator. He stumbles with his words around a pretty girl, he makes horrible, horrible metaphors.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I feel like a brick made of porridge.”
“No, no,” I said. “It makes sense! Listen. A brick is supposed to be strong, right? But if one were secretly made of porridge, and all of the other bricks didn’t know, he’d sit around worrying that he’d be weak when the rest of them were strong. He’d get smooshed when he was placed in the wall, you see, maybe get some of his porridge mixed with that stuff they stick between bricks.”
Trust me, we are subjected to a fair number of terrible metaphors within this book, but they are completely intentional. It's not the writing at all. I find them very amusing.
What I don't like about David is his perfection. Despite his bumbling, despite his awkwardness, he succeeds far too often. He defuses tight, dangerous situation through his quick-wittedness, and really, I don't think there is a standard for his abilities. David is a newbie, yet he stands on par, and holds his own against the very experienced team of Reckoners. It's not like he has had a lot of experience with this situation before; in order to succeed at fighting, you have to put in the time, the practice, and until very recently, he has worked in a Factory producing weaponry. He collects information, and collected it well, but there is a definite line between being a geek and being an amazing fighter. It takes a lot of practice, it takes a considerable amount of skills, and I don't feel like David has the experience necessary to justify his brilliance in battle and in dangerous situations.
The Romance: I did not mind the light romance in this book. It was insta-love, but while David finds himself thinking of Megan more often than he should, he realizes the absurdity of the situation, and snaps out of it. I liked Megan, I liked her single-mindedness, I like her absolute focus on the mission, and I liked the fact that she wasn't some silly girl with her head in the clouds. She is strong, she is determined, she is too harsh, at times, but hey, nobody's perfect. There is a distinctly Jean Grey feel about Megan.
The clock ticked down. We didn’t speak. I mentally sounded out a few ways to start conversation, but each one died on my lips as I opened my mouth. Each time I was confronted by Megan’s glassy stare. She didn’t want to chat. She wanted to do the job.
The book had a very fast pace initially, but the middle half was very slow for me. There was a lot of planning, a lot of discussion, and while it was necessary to have that in the book leading up to the final confrontation, I find myself just plain bored. There was a lot of action, but I wished there were more characterization in its place.
If you have been a Sanderson fan before, you will likely love this book. I have read Mistborn, and I will say that I prefer the pacing of this book to that series. This is a lot easier to read, the world building is less confusing; it is Mistborn for those with a short attention span. (Like me!)