By a curious coincidence, I read and reviewed another superhero book only a couple of weeks ago – see my review of Turbulence here. This novel is quite different, however…
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.
So there you have it, the blurb. And if you think it sounds chockfull of action, you’d be absolutely right. This book starts with a bang and doesn’t let up until the very last page. I really enjoyed this offering – it certainly presents a different spin on the whole sub-genre. Told in first person by a non-Epic human who is driven by the desire to be revenged for the death of his father, it is a story of what has happened to humankind since Epics started ruling the world. David has been obsessively studying the Epics and listing their strengths and weaknesses in readiness for moving against them. His character is the lynchpin of the story as we see the situation filtered through his perception – it was a smart move to start the action when David is a small child as we instantly feel more protective towards children and that opening scene demonstrates only too clearly just how grimly ruthless Steelheart is – and what lengths he’ll take to ensure his rule is absolute.
Not that there is any coherent rule throughout most of the country. So many flock to Newcago because although it is grim and in constant darkness, at least there is power and running water. Sanderson is an excellent worldbuilder and this gritted existence unfurls in amongst the action and adds to the tension pinging off the page. But being Sanderson, as well as providing excellent action and plenty of adventure, he also raises some pertinent issues along the way. If a tyrant provides a measure of protection and stability, does that consideration mean that rebels shouldn’t target him? After all, if they prevail a lot of innocent people will die… If that happens, doesn’t that put the rebels in the same amoral pit where the tyrant is residing?
As we are plunged straight into the action, without a lot of exposition, the readers gradually learn more about the Epics throughout the story, as well as the nature of the Reckoners, the desperate group trying to wrest some kind of control back from the Epics on behalf of a crushed humanity. The string of surprises and continual action had me reading late into the night to discover exactly what would happen – a couple of deaths early on in the story demonstrated that Sanderson wasn’t afraid to kill major characters, which certainly kept me attentive. And the climax was brilliant – a set piece where the stakes couldn’t be higher, with a number of unexpected twists thrown in for good measure. Overall, a thoroughly satisfying, entertaining read and I cannot wait to read the sequel, Firefight.