Review of Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
One day a bright light appears in the sky, a phenomenon known as Calamity, and ordinary people begin to change into superheroes, Epics. But they’re not heroes. The powers they gain twist them into tyrants. One of the Epics changes David’s life, and David learns something that day, and makes himself a promise. He’ll get revenge whatever it takes…
Reading this book was a little strange. For fifty or so pages I’d enjoy it, couldn’t put it down. For the twenty after I was only half paying attention. Then for another fifty or sixty pages it was gripping again. It’s like two different people wrote this book. One who delivered solid action set pieces and sharp writing, the other who delivered weird descriptions and pointless dialogue.
But this book achieves four out of five because it delivered a punch-in-the-face ending packed with action and plenty of plot twists. The ending saved this book from a 3 star rating.
3 stars because for almost half of the book not a lot happened. The plot was pretty thin and many pages were dedicated to characters discussing their plans, what was going to happen, which took away some of the tension from the scenes where the plans actually happened.
3 stars because the main character David is a strange narrator. That’s not always a bad thing. A strange narrator is better than a boring one. But David is strange because he’s eighteen and he acts like someone half that age. The way he speaks, acts, thinks about things—it’s like he’s younger than he is. The character quirk of him not being able to think of metaphors could have worked, but it just comes off as a failed attempt at humour most of the time. And most of the humour in Steelheart doesn’t really work. Or it didn’t work for me. The character who is American but pretends to be Scottish or Australian—I… didn’t get it. Maybe other people will. The characters themselves aren’t so bad, but little time is spent developing them despite the book’s length. David has strong motivation, and the gripping opening sequence gives him a reason to hate the Epics and fuel his agenda, but apart from that he and the other main characters are thinly drawn.
3 stars because there is massive potential for this to be a book version of the Marvel Universe, but it never reaches that as much as I thought it could. Sanderson’s world-building skills are impressive and there are some cool ideas, but they’re delivered as clunky exposition by various characters. We’re told everything about this world, rather than shown it. Still, the steel city and superheros’ (Epics) powers are cool. Sanderson doesn’t just opt for invisibility, flight and the usual powers, he makes sure they’re diverse. The question around the Epics, why they are what they are, why they changed, also adds a compelling level to the story. I’m looking forward to seeing how Sanderson answers that in the sequels.
But Steelheart gets 4 stars because when the characters weren’t standing about talking and the action kicked in, the pages flew by. Sanderson writes action well, and the ending and various set pieces before that prove it. But when the action dies down, the plot drags and it seems to go back and forth needlessly. This book could have had a good quarter of its length cut out.
4 stars because the ending is gripping and delivers half a dozen plot twists that make up for the predictability that came before. Things are set up well for the next volume which I’m looking forward to. There are enough questions answered and enough left open to make me want to read on.
Overall, this isn’t all I was hoping. Viscous by Victoria Schwab and Blackout by Robison Wells are faster-paced, tighter-written superhero books (and both worth reading), but Steelheart is closer to the Marvel-movie-translated-to-book that I was looking for. Despite some pacing problems and clunky dialogue, Steelheart has some standout action sequences and a great ending. This is worth a read.
If anyone can recommend any more good superhero/superpower books, please feel free to leave a comment below.