Tuesday, 24 September 2013

review: Steelheart

by Brandon Sanderson
Delacorte Press, September 24 2013
young adult sci-fi/thriller
review copy received via publisher (thank you!)

When the star Calamity burst in the sky and gifted humans with superpowers, these Epics took over the United States. David's fathers was one of the early casualties at the start of the reign of the all-powerful Epic named Steelheart. Now, in post-Chicago, David seeks out the Reckoners, a guerilla band of people fighting back against the Epics. As he gets closer and closer to avenging his father, David discovers more and more that no one understands about Epics that could be the key to unlocking their secret.
The cover:

Ehhh, it's pretty typical. Chromey, jagged scenery with chunky typography and a grey-silver colour scheme; it all fits, but it's nothing special.

The book:

Brandon Sanderson's writing credentials are clear in this absolute prodigy of a first book. Steelheart has what a debut couldn't: intricate, layered worldbuilding, a diverse cast of characters and beautiful, beautiful pacing. Seriously. The pacing. Sigh. Okay, let's start being coherent. *ahem*

David is seventeen and relatable; his past is tragic, but his practicality and ambition make hime asy to read about, and his excitement over weapons and self-deprecating congeniality provide hilarious moments. Most notably, his continued failed attempts at metaphors and similes (Sanderson unfortunately mislabels some similes as metaphors O_o):
"Wow," I said. "It's like... a banana farm for guns."
"A banana farm," Megan said flatly.
"Sure. You know, how bananas grow from their trees and hang down and stuff?"
"Knees, you suck at metaphors."
I blushed. An art gallery, I thought. I should have said "like an art gallery for guns." No, wait. If I said it that way, it would mean the gallery was intended for guns to come visit. A gallery of guns, then? (p. 142)
Yeah, that's a simile, but whatever, there are so many fun moments that you don't even mind.

The entire cast of the Reckoners is delightful in their well-roundedness. Each member is fully developed with their own personality; Abraham is probably the most interesting—he's French Canadian, is a POC and has a subtly distinct speaking style to go with his demeanour and outlook on life. Really, it's the interactions between the Reckoners (and David) which both develop them individually and cements their friendships:
"Those are the power cells," Cody said, sounding relieved. "I was half worried there wouldn't be any. Good thing I brought my four-leaf clover on this operation."
"Four-leaf clover?" Megan said with a snort as she fished something out of her pack.
"Sure. From the homeland."
"That's the Irish, Cody, not the Scottish."
"I know," Cody said without missing a beat. "I had to kill an Irish dude to get mine." (p. 208)
Megan, David's love interest, nearly verges on the unlikeable, but this merely contributes to the complexity of her character. She will most likely be the star (though not the protagonist) of the next novel, and Sanderson builds up the layers to her character very adeptly.

Now, the worldbuilding. This is the truly impressive aspect of Steelheart. Not only are the ramifications of the Epics explored, but Sanderson ties the theems of morality andi nherent good & evil into the superpowers: why do all Epics turn evil? What does power to do goodness? Furthermore, he delvces fully into the science regarding the Epics' ability; David's nerdy Epic classification is a thing of beauty as he breaks down photon-manipulators versus mental illusionists, and wonders how Epics' mitochondria can be used to create powerful new technology. Probably the thing I'm most looking forward to in the sequels is the development of the knowledge of Epics.

The pacing is a nice balance of action and quiet moments, plus those in-between, in-progress suspense-filled scenes that are the best part of thrillers. Twists come neatly and satisfyingly, though there are enough hints to guess at one or two. And the best aspect to this novel—it doesn't feel like we've changed objectives by the end. We aren't lost, wondering how the sequel will pan out; there's still a view of where we're headed as a series... and gosh is it exciting.

Ethnic balance: 4 out of 5. Both of Steelheart's strongest partners are Asian, and Abraham is black. Can't wait to see what kind of diversity comes up in the sequels. :3

Rating: 4.6 out of 5