Sanderson’s Steelheart Gets Hearts Racing


Brandon Sanderson is known as a fantasy master, and a quick look at his books – spanning ten series – shows how diverse his writing is. Unfortunatly, his books can take time to hit shelves, so if you’re stuck waiting for the next Stormlight book or the Warbreaker sequel, try Steelheart. Yet another unique and compelling novel, and the first book in the completed The Reckoners series, Steelheart is set on earth and stars superheroes called Epics.

Unlike the traditional view of superheroes, Sanderson creates immediate conflict between Epics and the normal humans. When the red star, Calamity, appeared in earth’s sky, thousands of people were suddenly stricken with powers. Some died immediately, others were driven insane, and those that remained became power hungry.

In America, they tore the states apart in an attempt to gain territory to control. And now the country has been reduced to scattered city-states, each one ruled by an Epic lord. In Newcago, the city which was once Chicago, the Epic Steelheart rules. With the ability to fly, shoot energy bolts, and turn nonliving matter to steel, Steelheart is practically invincible and runs Newcago unopposed.

When main character David Charleston was eight, Steelheart murdered his father in a bank, leaving him an orphan. Since then, David has lived on Newcago’s streets, barely surviving and plotting revenge. David plans to join the Reckoners, a shadowy group of rebels that are the only ones who oppose Epics. David’s goal is not only to join them, but to convince them to help him take down Steelheart. He hopes to accomplish this with the secret he has guarded since the day of his father’s death – that Steelheart can bleed.

Sanderson easily creates an engaging narrator. David’s voice is strong from the first page, often self-deprecating and amusing. Sanderson includes broken thought from David, puns or jokes that he thinks of after the fact, to fully draw the reader into David’s world. If David’s quirky viewpoint isn’t enough, the action scenes raise the book to a new level.

Sanderson meticulously structures his world so that the power system of the Epics makes sense. This gives him freedom to create movie worthy fights. The Reckoners and David are pitted against all sorts of Epic powers, from illusions to kinetic energy abilities. And all the Reckoners have up their sleeves are guns. Still, Sanderson is able to create fast-paced and intricate fight scenes, where superheroes can fall to mortals.

With the recent popularity of darker heroes and the addition of more serious themes to their stories, now is the perfect time to read Steelheart. Sanderson raises the question of true heroism and the complicated implications of revenge.

When David joins the Reckoners, he is disappointed to realize just how safe his heroes are. They strike only less powerful Epics and only after they have planned everything perfectly. The reader asks, as David does, what is the point of fighting back if you never do anything serious? Which is more important: being a symbol of resistance and surviving, or attempting to create actual change?

These questions are revisited throughout the book. David has to face his own internal struggles; he has to decide if his need for revenge is meaningful or selfish. Because Newcago is one of the few places in America that is stable, ridding the city of Steelheart could actually be bad for the inhabitants. They have electricity, running water and jobs. While not everyone has access to these luxuries it’s more than most people have. Yet if Steelheart is deposed, a power vacuum will be created that Epics will looks to fill.

David has to decide which course of action to take. Steelheart may be a tyrant, but he is better than some alternatives. This fact resonates as an existential question: with our inability to know the future, can we ever be sure we are making the right choice?

With a plot that leaves you thinking long after you stop reading, Steelheart is the perfect book to read for a laugh and an adrenaline rush. And as the series is now complete, with Firefight and Calamity following Steelheart, there’s no need to wait to enjoy all of the thrills.

Katie Stockdale can be reached at

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