Review: Steelheart (The Reckoners, #1) by Brandon Sanderson

steelheart by brandon sanderson spoiler free review

‘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 will.

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.’ (Goodreads)

I had ‘somewhat high’ expectations of this book.

High, because I read the first two books of The Stormlight Archive series (The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance) and I loved it so much that then and there I vowed to read all of Sanderson’s books… and he has a few…

Somewhat, because after reading the aforementioned two books in rapid succession (totaling about 2000 pages!) I ventured into my third Sanderson book, Warbreaker, which was a bit of a letdown.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Brandon Sanderson is still my hero for creating The Stormligt Archive world, but I have to be frank here and Steelheart was a disappointment.

I can fully immerse myself in a book without a critical thought to writing style if a story is good. I can even overlook faulty plots. I don’t care about clichéd characters, representation if I am hooked. To sum it up I can be as non-critical of a book as it gets, but I have to be hooked. And Steelheart didn’t hook me…. until the very ending. Very ending as in the last chapter. Let’s see why.

1. The world building was vague, with things left unexplained. I felt that I needed to understand more about this post-apocalyptic, in which Calamity happened, which ‘gave’ some humans, called Epics, superpowers. (Oh and btw, I still have no idea what Calamity is.) First, the rest of the world thought, that these Epics will be superheroes ala Superman but instead they turned against the rest of the world. Humanity was turned into their slaves and the existing world order destroyed. The world became the playing ground of the Epics, who played for fun, money, and power. I finished Steelheart and I don’t know much more than this about the world.

2. The writing was too economic. I felt that the book had no soul, it was like reading a financial statement. Or, even better, imagine reading a comic book without the pictures.

What made it worse was the ill-fitting metaphors and comparisons. It felt that they were inserted with a mathematical precision, after some sort of formula in order to make the text more readable. They just make the text feel repetitive and boring. There is too much telling instead of showing.

‘He was right. I wilted, like a soda going flat in a cup left out overnight.’

‘Besides, telling you to stop would be a little like a hearth telling the oven to cool down.’

‘The buzzing was like a muscle car that had just been started, but left in neutral. That was another of Cody’s metaphors for it; I’d said the sensation felt like an unbalanced washing machine filled with a hundred epileptic chimpanzees.’

‘He was right, I was letting myself distracted, like a rabbit doing math problems instead of looking for foxes.’

These are completely unnecessary and some of them, considering the world, don’t even make sense. If they are there to make me feel they have failed miserably. If they are there as a quirk of the story, they don’t fit in, in my opinion.

3. The characters where just there, doing their thing, while unrelentingly firing off their ‘witty’ lines. Character development? Zero. I am not saying that we don’t find out anything about them but their backstories are a couple of sentences long.

4. I disliked the way the clichéd way the only two female characters were portrayed. On one hand, we had a vague, nerdy Tia with her ever-present Cola bottle beside her. Why? I don’t even know how she looks and who she is. What I know about her is two things, she is good with computers and she likes to drink Coca-Cola.

On the other hand, we have Megan, who is so hot that our main character’s head empties of rational thought every time he looks at her. Seriously? She is also a kick-ass fighter. And mysterious. And has an attitude.

5. The story is told in first person, by our main character David. David became an orphan at an early age because his father was killed by an Epic. This made him grow up with revenge in mind. And revenge is the only thing on his mind during the many years while growing up. Yet, all of that is gone when he looks or thinks about Megan. Which is often! Oh, well, let’s forgive that, those teenage hormones…

Because of this narrating style, I feel like Sanderson has missed out on opportunities of making the story better. For example, I would have been interested to know more about these Epics. They were human once, so what’s in their minds now? The anti-hero perspective would have been an interesting one to explore. It could have given depth to the story.

To boil it down, this is a book written by a straight hetero man for straight hetero men/boys who love weapons and superheroes. It’s peppered with clichés and as a whole, I would compare it more to a comic book than a novel.

If you want to give Brandon Sanderson a go, you would be better off reading The Stormlight Archive.

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