Thursday, July 7, 2016

Steelheart (Brandon Sanderson)

(The Reckoners trilogy, Book 1)
Brandon Sanderson
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: David was a boy when the red star Calamity appeared in the sky... and when the Epics first emerged, ordinary humans developing bizarre, physics-defying powers. Instead of becoming saviors of justice, like in the comic books, these men and women turned evil, destroying nations as they squabbled to carve up the world between them. Some, like David's father, believed heroes would arise among the Epics - a belief he died for, murdered by the Epic Steelheart who had come to claim Chicago. That was ten years ago...
David's life revolves around Epics, specifically the Epics in charge of what has become Newcago: a town turned half to metal by Steelheart's formidable skills, kept shrouded in perpetual darkness by Nightwielder, terrorized by the incandescent Firefight, and powered by the mysterious Conflux. He's determined to find Steelheart's vulnerability and have his vengeance, but he can't do it alone. He needs the help of the Reckoners, a terrorist group composed of ordinary humans, the only active resistance to the reign of Epics in the Fractured States of what used to be America. When he finally makes contact with them, things don't go as planned, but David's nothing if not persistent. How far is he willing to go to avenge his father - and what price is too high for justice?

REVIEW: Superheroes aren't normally my thing, but I enjoy Sanderson's works and had heard good things about this trilogy. Here, though, I was less impressed than I'd hoped to be. The world here feels like something from a comic book, which is both a plus and a minus. On the plus side, there's a nice aesthetic that would look great on screen or in a graphic novel, a supervillain-riddled dystopia with subterranean catacombs carved through solid steel, full of impossible weaponry and larger-than-life action sequences. On the minus side, the logic stretches thin in many places. Sanderson's known for "hard fantasy", where powers have distinct rules and restrictions; he pretty much abandons that idea here, with all sorts of random skills that grow or shrink depending on the plot and with vulnerabilities that just don't make sense. As for the characers, they felt flat. David's a determined boy, bent entirely on vengeance to the point of tunnel vision, but he's just plain not that smart at times. Being forced to see the world through his brain, especially when it's so often clouded by adolescent lust for his brooding Reckoner teammate Megan, just wasn't fun - particularly when he's too dense to see some rather obvious complications and plot twists. The other Reckoners fall into recognizable stock character bins, with a few dabs of paint to make them look original but which don't hide the factory mold they're cast from. Similarly, the Epic villains are evil bogeymen, amoral monsters for the sake of being amoral monsters, with scarcely a trace of humanity left in them. (On a writing level, I was ready to punch Sanderson for overusing the word "softly." Was the Q broken on his keyboard, that he couldn't shake it up with a "quietly" once in a while, or outright admit that the characters "whispered"? Here are these hardened freedom fighters going up against supervillains in major gunfights, with explosions and bullets and debris and Epic powers flying, and they keep talking "softly" to each other - after a while, it was like a fluffy pillow thrown into a firefight, so out-of-place and irritating the phrase became... but I digress.) The story ratchets up to a decent climax, but for a good stretch it feels like it's consciously dithering as it chases clearly-false leads and otherwise kills time (while setting up aforementioned plot twists that David densely ignores). A pyrotechnic ending almost brought it up to a full four stars... but another "twist", plus a wrap-up that diluted some of the power of the final confrontation (not to mention an epilogue that made me worried about where the trilogy as a whole is going, and robbed me of any remaining inclination to pick up Book 2), dropped it back down. It's not a bad book, and it has some good stuff, but it just isn't my thing.

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Devil's Tower (Mark Sumner) - My Review

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