For the second time this year I have had the pleasure of reading an amazing book about characters with powers that are anything but heroic. I don’t know if two books is enough to count as a genre, but I have to say that I’m enjoying this twist on the traditional “man gets superpowers, man becomes hero” trope of the comics.
In the near future, there was Calamity, and its its wake various members of mankind begin to develop abilities. These abilities cost the users humanity; both theirs and essentially the more general sense as society breaks down into complete chaos as the so-called Epics fight each other for territory and power and leave the unpowered humans scrambling to survive. Sanderson wisely never gives us a full explanation for how the Epics came to be.The story doesn’t need the explanation to be enjoyable, and you don’t experience the loss of immersion that bad explanations can create (c.f. Allegiant’s explanation of Divergence). We do get various theories and its interesting to consider them, but I do think overall the story is stronger for not having a definitive answer. I also like that Sanderson takes some time to give some diversity to the Epics. Some are decidedly stronger than others. Some have powers that are more passive in nature, others have multiple powers that combine into something much greater than their individual components. All Epics have a weakness, and discovering them through the story is one of the joys of the novel.
The story itself is set in Newcago in the near-future (poor Chicago. Between Divergent and Steelheart that city can’t seem to catch a break), where our protagonist David watches as a new Epic by the name of Steelheart murders his father when he was eight. Now eighteen, he has spent his adolescence learning everything that he can about Epics so he one day avenge his father and kill Steelheart. He does so by catching up with a group called the Reckoners, a group of humans dedicating to assassinating Epics in an attempt to better the world.
Sanderson does a really good job creating the group.You have the Professor X type figure, you have a character who is always saying that he’s Irish, or Scottish, or Australian or whatever and engaging in little white lies. It’s harmless, but it gives a real sense of personality which a lot of supporting characters in other books don’t necessarily get. You also have Megan, a fairly stoic woman. I like her character because she’s stoic, but still approachable, and she has some misgivings about what the team is planning to do and her reasons honestly make sense. It’s not optimistic, but it is pragmatic giving the world they’re living in.
Another thing that I like is that David has a crush on Megan. I absolutely love how it is handled. David really does feel like an 18 year old boy here.He’s clumsy with his word, trying to be clever but often awkward sounding with bizarre metaphors that, while you get his meaning, aren’t anything you’d really want to use in real life. It feels natural. And honest to god, I’m tired of reading YA protagonists who are so smooth at this dating thing. It just feels more real.
The plot itself moves along as a brisk pace with a nice mix of exposition and action. I absolutely could see this turning into a movie one day. In fact, it’s one of the few YA franchises that I think would really make a great film series because despite it technically being YA, it has great cross-over appeal, much like the Hunger Games. And honestly, even more so than the Hunger Games, this could sit in the adult SF/Fantasty section and fit right in.
This is the first in a series of books and I look forward to where future books will go, especially given the ending of this.
Like Vicious, this is a no-brainer for both fans of comics and well written science-fiction/fantasy. All in all, Sanderson proves again why he is one of the best fantasy authors writing today.
Verdict: Buy it