Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

SteelheartTitle: Steelheart

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: YA, Thriller, Superheroes

Publication Date: September 24, 2013 (Delacorte Press)

Source: print ARC via Amazon Vine

Synopsis: Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics… nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

2.5/5 stars – Great plot, pacing, and worldbuilding brought down by lackluster characters and irritating habits

Approximately eighty percent of my friends fall over themselves for Brandon Sanderson, so hearing he had a YA novel coming out about superpowered human beings in Chicago and one group’s attempts to fight them piqued my interest. After nearly 400 pages of being immersed in the complex world he built for his superhumans, I can’t say I see Sanderson’s appeal. His lackluster characters, bad writing, and irritating habits manage to drain the life out of what should be a fun thriller.

The worldbuilding, pacing, and plot I most often hear praised about Sanderson’s works are here and clear. The classifications David has for Epics take some time to get used to and remember, but the intricate nature of it got me right in the part of my heart I reserve for worldbuilding. Some of its twists surprised me in the best of ways too, though some of them don’t make any sense due to MASSIVE plot holes involving the limits of one Epic’s powers. Were it not for some major pet peeves Steelheart stomped on, the nonstop action of it all would have kept me reading right up until the last page because it’s just. That. Busy. In a good way, of course. We all need a good thriller in our lives every once in a while.

What kept me from tearing through it, then? The lackluster characterization, to start. David is the kind of hero who does everything right, knows everything, sees everything happen the way he wants one way or another, and doesn’t have any internal (i.e. character flaws) or external obstacles. Some would even call him a Mary Sue/Gary Stu. Whatever he is, he a dull hero with a threadbare personality. He’s the best we get too; his love interest Megan and his fellow Reckoners are no more thoroughly characterized.

The closest thing David has to a flaw is his habit of making bad metaphors and making fun of them later, but what should be an endearing writing quirk quickly becomes annoying. The other major quirks–a calamitous overuse of childlike fake curses like “calamity” and “sparks” alongside people pointing out how little everything makes sense but going with it anyway–are no less irritating and act as major obstacles to the kind of one-sitting reading experience this book should be. There are only so many times I can stand to see someone shout “Calamity!” in the middle of a bunch of action scenes before a sanity break becomes necessary.

I keep hearing his adult fantasy novels are out of this world, so this one bad experience hasn’t been enough to remove Sanderson’s work from my radar completely. It does give me pause, but he’s still going to come up if I ask about adult fantasy reads and all the hype has me curious. All that is certain is that I won’t be sticking around for Firefight, book two in the Reckoners series because this book about superhumans isn’t quite super enough. (The pun had to be made. It ALWAYS has to be made.)


2 thoughts on “Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

  1. WHAT IS THIS? ARE WE AGREEING ON A THING? *looks outside to see if sky is falling*

    Don’t necessarily agree that he’s a Gary Stu, though. He was annoying, for sure, but he was constantly losing weapons. That doesn’t seem like a great characteristic in an action hero. Lol. He reminded me of the guy in Ashfall. Those metaphors make me want to kick him in the face. Though not quite as much as anything that the Scottish/southern guy said.

    Sanderson can do SO. MUCH. BETTER. I’m waiting for reviews of book two before I read it. For sure.

    • Oh, hush!

      It never seemed to impede him that much in battle because someone was always there to save him, so that never crossed my mind as a flaw. I think the only thing I can really expect from the next book right now is that the cover is also going to be kick-ass. And probably red because fire.

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