David lives in Newcago, a city of darkness controlled by a powerful Epic named Steelheart. Ten years ago, Calamity came and normal humans were randomly endowed with superhuman powers. It didn't take long for the absolute power of this to corrupt the super-humans/Epics and for normal society to break down, as it became clear that humans couldn't fight or control the Epics. Newcago is the fiefdom of Steelheart, who has created eternal darkness, and who carries out vicious public murders to terrify the population, but it is still safer than the anarchy that exists elsewhere. The only humans who are trying to fight back against the powerful Epics are the mysterious Reckoners, ordinary humans who target and assassinate Epics. Teenager David wants nothing more than to join the Reckoners in order to gain revenge on Steelheart, who brutally murdered his father in front of him when he was just a child. But are there any good sides in this conflict?
Steelheart is the first book by Brandon Sanderson that I have read, and I was impressed. Steelheart is fast paced, action packed and tightly plotted, which means it is easy and enjoyable to read; I breezed through it in just a couple of days. I loved the core idea of the novel, of super-powers corrupting individuals, and I appreciated that Sanderson put in just enough moral ambiguity to make the story work. Is it ethical to murder Steelheart, even though he has done terrible things, if what will follow his death will only be chaos, civil war and a power struggle between remaining Epics for control of Newcago? Is it the right thing to do if it will only make the situation for ordinary people worse? Is it acceptable to commit terrorist acts in order to fight evil? I liked that Sanderson had David ponder all these issues whilst he was working with the Reckoners, and I liked it even more than he presented no answers to the moral questions raised throughout the novel.
The strength of Steelheart is definitely the plotting. In comparison, some of the characterisations felt a bit weak. David was a bit too good to be true sometimes, always able to think up the right thing to do in some very tricky spots. I liked the way Sanderson wrote the characters of most of the Reckoners themselves, but the love story between David and Megan was very cheesy at times. It was a low-key element that didn't dominate the plot, but it felt like an unnecessary bolt-on and I would have been happier without it being included at all.
Even though Steelheart is the first book in a proposed trilogy, it had a satisfying ending and worked well as a stand-alone novel. Although I can guess where Sanderson is going to go in the next volume, enough loose ends were tied up for me to feel like there was resolution. I was really impressed with the plotting and world-building in the book, and now I'm quite keen to pick up another Sanderson novel, maybe the first volume in the Mistborn series. Fantasy fans will definitely appreciate this novel.
First Published: 2013
Score: 4 out of 5