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Steelheart (The Reckoners) Hardcover – September 24, 2013
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Q&A with Brandon Sanderson (Interviewed by James Dashner)
Q. Brandon, you’re perhaps best known for your adult books—Mistborn, The Way of Kings, and particularly for finishing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. However, recently you’ve undertaken several projects for younger readers. Why is that? How does it feel to be entering into the world of YA fiction? How does it differ from writing for an adult audience? How do you possibly think you can compete with your friend, James Dashner?
A. I've known this guy James Dashner for so long, and he was such an inspiration to me, and I thought, if this joker can do it, then I can too! The sci-fi/fantasy genre is what made a reader out of me, and it has a long history of crossing the line between YA and adult fiction. For example, you mentioned The Wheel of Time. In the early books, the main protagonists are all teenagers. Are these books YA? The publishers don't classify them that way. They’re shelved with the adult fantasy books. Books like that have influenced me in that some of the stories I tell fit into the mold that society says will package well as YA books. Other stories I tell—that are a thousand pages long—don’t seem to fit that mold. But I don’t sit down and say, “I’m writing for a teen audience now. I need to change my entire style.” Instead, I say, “This project and the way I’m writing it feels like it would work well for a teen audience.”
Q. In previous interviews, you’ve mentioned that you come up with characters, worlds, and magic systems independently and then fit them together to create a book. How is that different when writing a YA book like Steelheart? Are certain worlds or magic systems more suitable for YA readers? And how in the world did you get so smart?
A. Ha! I do a lot of talking about the process of writing. That makes it sound like I’m doing it more consciously than I am, but at this point I do most of it by instinct. I do take things like characters, settings, and magic systems—all these little fragments and pieces—and put them together into stories. Whether I’m writing YA or adult, this process doesn’t vary. Some of these elements feel better suited for a teen audience, so when everything starts coming together as it does when a book is forming for me, some stories naturally gravitate toward YA. To me Steelheart is distinctive because it was one of those stories where all the elements came together at the same time. Once I got the idea—people gaining super powers but only evil people getting them—the story basically started to write itself in my head. It happened during a four-hour drive along the East Coast, where by the end of it, I basically had this entire story. I knew where it was going, and I was really excited to write it. That's rare for me, but sometimes it does happen where everything clicks right at the beginning.
Q. Can you give us a sense of the world in which Steelheart takes place? Why do you think this world worked well for these particular characters?
A. Technically, Steelheart is set in a post-apocalyptic world where super villains gained powers and took over. I wanted it to feel alien and familiar at the same time and to be very visual. So I wrote it to be kind of like an action movie in book form. One of my catchphrases that I use when talking about writing is ”Err on the side of awesomeness.” So I wanted the setting and feel of the book to be visually distinctive and awesome.
When I designed Steelheart, the emperor of Chicago, I wanted him to have the power of transmutation—he turns things into steel. The idea that, in a burst of power, he turned the entire city—and even part of the lake—into steel was fascinating to me. This renders a lot of things useless. When your streetlights and all their wiring have been turned into steel, everything short circuits and doesn’t work anymore. You can’t get into buildings because their doors and windows have been melded together. The whole city has become a shell—like the husk of a dead beetle—and people have built on top of it. It’s always perpetual twilight there, so we’ve got this cool feel of everything being steel at night.
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Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, read by MacLeod Andrews, published by Audible Studios (2013) / Length: 12 hrs 14 min
This is Book #1 in the "Reckoners Trilogy." All 3 books and a novella (#1.5) are available in audio.
This book is a bit more action oriented than my usual read. (Yes, I am one of those people who actually skip or fast-forward the fighting, car chases etc. To me, those are the boring parts; I'd rather read about the characters.) Thankfully a lot of the action is very character based, which is good.
David: An adorkable "nerd" (just don't call him that to his face). Totally obsessed, he spends all his free time plotting to take down Steelheart. One of his biggest strengths is his ability to think on his feet and act quickly (although this "improvising" drives Megan crazy). His complete hopelessness with metaphors is cute, but does occasionally get a bit tiresome after 3 books.
Megan: The newest and youngest member of the Reckoner team that David runs into. Hypercompetent, smart, slightly older, very attractive, and blows hot & cold. She sort of reminds me of a typical YA hero.
David & Megan: This is a case of love at first sight (on his part) that doesn't annoy me. He is immediately attracted to her physically (not surprising, since she is dressed to seduce at the time), but it her competence at kicking-butt that seals the crush.
"I respected her for that. Sparks, I was liking her more and more. And though she hadn’t been particularly affectionate toward me lately, she wasn’t openly hostile and cold any longer. That left me room to work some seductive magic. I wished I knew some."
This is one romance that I was really pulling for.
The Prof = cranky founder of the Reckoners, the only one as as obsessed as David
Tia = the brains, and the one who holds them all together when everything is falling apart
Abraham = the wise man of faith, who always seems to have the best gun (and he's not French, you slontze, he's Canadian).
Cody = the comic relief whose sense of humor just didn't click with me (I'm not fond of people who can't be serious)
The post-apocalyptic Chicago cityscape is introduced well as David races through it at the beginning. It is a city where the sun hasn't shone for nearly 10 years and where most people live in a steel catacomb dug out below the transformed city. It is a place where anyone can be killed at any time for no reason. And yet, it is an oasis of civilization in the "Fractured States," since it has power and some sort of order.
The Epics (Supers) each have 1 or more abilities of various strengths. And each has a single weakness that negates their ability, and may be quite bizarre.
I LOVE the first line.
“I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.”
We then get a great prologue that give us the history of how the world came to be the way it is (I always prefer to know, rather than be strung along and doled out bits & pieces), and of why David hates Steelheart. Followed by:
“I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.
And I will see him bleed again.”
This is a trilogy, so the world's problems aren't resolved by the end. Plus, there are some fairly sharp twists that leave plot points dangling. But I found the end to be satisfying.
Note: Sanderson is very skillful at foreshadowing without making the twists too easy to guess. I love going back and finding all the places that was done.
HIGHLIGHTS / CAUTIONS:
--I like how, despite it's comic book origins & plot to take down the villain, the book doesn't ignore the implications and possible consequences of their actions. David recognizes that what they are doing is the equivalent of terrorism (and that all terrorists feel justified). He is also forced to consider what will happen in the resulting power vacuum if they succeed.
--I also like how, when meeting his heroes, he is forced to recognize that they are regular people with strengths & weaknesses.
CAUTIONS(?): This book contains some intense scenes of violence, including the death of at least one child.
The narrator is skilled and gives each character their own voice. Accents are well done. David's personality shines. / I listened on 1.25 speed (my usual).
The 'Epics' came to being. Though endowed with superpowers, they were anything but heroes.
David Charleston lost his father at the hands of the mightiest of them all, Steelheart, as a boy. Watching and studying the Epics for the last ten years, he's figured out each has a weakness. He just needs the help of the Reckoners to enact his revenge.
The day Calamity appeared in the sky the world changed. Or rather, it seemed to have caused some people to change and not for the better.
As the saying goes: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Could any of us resist using newfound superhuman abilities for personal gain?
What I liked:
Steelheart is a wonderful spin on human nature. Could any of us honestly say we wouldn't be tempted to use newfound superhuman abilities for personal gain? Wealth? Status? Vengeance? We grow through struggle. But how would we improve if we were suddenly endowed with god-like power? Would we even want to? Or is power too seductive?
What I didn't like:
Top international reviews
It’s been a while since a Fantasy novel has truly engrossed me, but Brandon Sanderson is a magician amongst mere mortals. It’s usually within pages that I will be able to determine whether a novel is going to submerge me within its world, whether I mould between its pages…I was a goner by page two. Brandon Sanderson had my heart beating at a staccato rhythm and my imagination on red alert. He is the master of foreshadowing, a breaker of wills and the puppet master of emotion. This book was all kinds of awesome. Why on earth has it taken me so long to read Brandon Sanderson’s work?
Calamity has visited the earth and brought with its cataclysmic effects. It has in its wake created Epics, an evolved human if you will. They have superpowers, there is no rhyme or reason to the who or the why, but these epics are not the heroes the world is expecting. They use their powers for bad…they use it to control and manipulate. Their rule is absolute, and it’s done with an iron fist. Life is drastically altered for the average human being. They no longer have the luxuries and things they took for granted is no long gone. Things will never be the same again. The rule and policing from the United States Government has collapsed like a deck of cards. In its wake we have super epics making the rules and controlling the fractured states, some doing a better job of it than others. One such fractured state is the destroyed city of Chicago, now known as Newcago, ruled by an extremely powerful Epic, called Steelheart. This Epic has a mysterious past with non-epic human, David who will spend years plotting his revenge…
I have seen Steelheart bleed.
David has witnessed Steelheart at his most destructive and soul-less. The death of his father was at his monstrous hands. Killing him was nothing, no guilt, no remorse. It was necessary. After all, his father was the only one to make Steelheart bleed. David has dedicated ten years of his life researching the Epics powers and what can kill them. His research is the only thing that he cares about. He dreams that one day he will be the one responsible for ending Steelhearts vicious rule. He acquaints himself with a vigilante group, known simply as the reckoners – they have one job – to kill every Epic they can get their hands on, to provide hope, and faith to humankind that this rule can end. The group is made up of five members – Prof, Tia, Cody, Abraham and Megan. An intriguing group made up of the very existence of the human condition. They are fuelled by emotion, strength, an iron will and a badass attitude.
Just how do you kill an all-powerful being seem to defy physics and time. Epics than can create illusions to confuse their enemies. Epics that can power entire cities with the raw power they can harness. Epics that can harness the darkness to kill its prey. One thing that David continues to prove time and time again though, is that they all have a weakness. That one thing that can be used to kill them. But, how do they discover what that is?
David’s dogged determination is what gets him taken into The Reckoners fold. He has lived for nothing else but to take down Steelheart. The fact that he has seen him bleed has their immediate attention, no one has known why Steelheart got that scar, not even his right-hand men. Not everyone is enamoured with the new member but what is the reasoning behind it?
“Sometimes, son,” my father said, prying my fingers free, “you have to help the heroes along.”
A True David vs. Goliath story. The story encapsulates pedal to the metal. This is exactly how Young Adult should be written. The ending ensured I was in this for the long haul.
Sanderson has a good imagination and constructs workable mythologies - everything makes sense and fits together, which is actually uncommon I find in sci-fi novels. (Spoilers) This is, however, basically the Matrix in structure and characters. The Matrix itself was compiled from other sources I know so can't complain, but the lack of originality - amongst the great originality - is quite noticeable. You have a small team of revolutionaries in a sci-fi setting trying to take down some super powerful bad guys. There is a muscley black dude who carries machine guns, a wise mysterious leader in a long black coat, a nerdy one who orchestrates the operation, a hot girl, and our hero the outsider who becomes crucial to the team and learns superpowered skills. They all run around underground tunnels, speed around on motorcycles, etc etc.
There is too much dialogue throughout, and seeing as each team member has one main character trait we keep hearing about, it begins to get a little tiring, but you do root for them and it's a page turning read. I downloaded the next novel straight away and am looking forward to seeing what happens in the next installment.
I liked this book, it was written well, in the sand that it was written in a very engaging and easy to read style. It's written in first person, which I'm always a bit way of, but it was OK. A few things David said grated on me a bit, the metaphors and such. But generally it was OK. The story was good, it moved on at quite a good pace and we got to know all the characters quite well. The world building was also great, I felt as though I knew a lot about the world while reading, but didn't feel overwhelmed by all the information we were getting.
There were however a few things I didn't like about this book. The plot, while interesting was quite predictable. The pace also grated me, there so much build up! But the big fight that the characters were talking for most of the novel, only took place in the last 10% of the book! Which made it a little underwhelming I feel.
But I did enjoy this book, I'm not 100% sure that I will carry on with this series, I have heard so many wonderful things about Sanderson, that I feel a little cheated that I didn't love it! But perhaps this book is solely a YA read and if you are a bit older as I am, it doesn't enthrall you as much as it should do. So I think I may read another of Sanderson's books from another series, before I return to this trilogy.
The whole book turns the superhero genre on its head. Everyone with superpowers is a villain and the world is crying out for heroes to fight them.
Without giving anything away, Sanderson even provides plot twists for his own premise and this turns the whole book into a rollercoaster ride.
The main character is believable given his circumstances and I look forward to meeting him again T the next book.
I hope the rest of the series is as good.
- The beautiful girl who initially hates the hero but is initially won round to become his doting lapdog - looked like it would happen but didn't!
- The legendary mentor who for no reason has to take a back seat to the young inexperienced protagonist (Gandalf anyone?) - looked like it would happen but didn't!
Only real criticisms would be that the dialogue is a little clunky and the Reckoners are a little too quick to start listening to their new rookie's suggestions and theories.
I am eager to continue by reading Firefight, and it's not often the first book of a trilogy/series inspires me to keep going with it.
Its well written, doesn't drift off the way some of Brandon's work does but stays focused on the main plot. The storyline itself offers enough surprises to be entertaining without the requirement for 6th sense type twists and turns that are all too common and therefore less effective now.
Its not his best work but is undeniably enjoyable and the premise of the tale hasn't been overdone by thousands of other authors before.
Imagine a world full of super-humans. But instead of great power bringing great responsibility, it only brings corruption . . . and evil. Only a dedicated band of humans, calling themselves the Reckoners, work to find a way of defeating them; the Epics.
David is the only person alive who has seen Steelheart, the Epic who rules over Newcago, bleed. He hopes that secret will be his passport to joining the Reckoners. He has spent the last ten years studying the Epics for a chance at vengeance, a chance to make Steelheart bleed again and avenge his father's murder. However, David didn't fully understand what that would entail until he is caught in the middle of a hit on an Epic. David must survive long enough to prove his worth to the Reckoners and somehow convince them that he can defeat the most powerful Epic in the world; Steelheart.
This is essentially a revenge story set in a post-apocalyptic world caused and now ruled by superheroes. Whilst there seems to be a good effort to classify and explain the various superpowers on display, it lacks the hard edge theoretical science to be true SF. The characters themselves comment on this by stating that no one really understands why these people have become supers, though it is alluded to that a huge red comet stuck in the Earth's orbit has something to do with it, and that the powers and weaknesses are somewhat illogical. The story is entirely contained within Newcago, formerly Chicago until Steelheart, in a rare display of his powers, caused most of the city to turn into metal. Steelheart rules his domain with an iron-fist, destroying anyone who defies his rules, with the highest crime being acts of attrition against any Epic. However, in comparison to other parts of the world, Newcago is a veritable haven, with people generally protected from attack from anyone other than Steelheart's inner circle, plus running water and electricity and a police force to ensure law and order. The ground level and the high-rises are reserved for Epics and those humans that serve them, e.g. accountants, scientists, engineers, etc. Most of the rest of humanity live underground in subterranean levels burrowed out by people "gifted" with the ability to burrow through metal. "Gifting" is one of the cooler innovations Sanderson has attributed to a rare few Epics. Its kind of the reverse of David Farland's Runelords, or if you like, the opposite to Rogue's (X-Men) powers, i.e. an Epic can gift one of his abilities for a limited time to a normal human being.
The story is told in the first person, with David as the viewpoint protagonist, filling in the reader with his encyclopedic knowledge of Epics. David has been shaped by the traumatic experience of watching his father murdered before his eyes by Steelheart and then spent the next ten years of his life gathering as much intel on Epics, whilst trying to keep his head low and working in a weapon's factory becoming an expert in guns. The supporting cast is made up of the Reckoners, with Megan, a red headed femme fatale that favors pistols over rifles, Cody, a Scotsman from Tennesee with a penchant for wild stories, Abraham, a French-Canadian who provides the voice of reason and superior marksman skills, Tia, a tech wizard with a sweet-tooth for Cola and Prof, the enigmatic leader of the Reckoners.
The writing and dialogue is solid and functional, telling the story well enough with little artistic flair. But perhaps that isn't so important in the bigger picture of presenting an interesting take on the superhuman mythos. The plot really does come into its own after David has become a fixture within the Reckoners. I found some of the twist perdictabe, nevertheless the execution of these twists and the pacing is faultless, with the big reveal at the end still worthy of the time invested in the book by the reader.
Sanderson supposedly developed the original idea in 2007, but it is difficult not to draw parralells with the plot of Injustice: Gods Amongst Us, in which Superman is tricked into killing Lois Lane by the Joker (just like Herucles was tricked by Hera), who then kills the Joker in cold blood, then goes on to establishing his dominion over the world and all the other superheroes and villains. The Reckoners sound a lot like a dispersed and under-funded version of Batman Inc, with the Prof even doing a good impression of the Bat in his black lab coat and apparell. There are even a few nods in the story to Superman, with David's dad wearing a Superman tshirt when he is killed by Steelheart, who incedently could be a dead-ringer for the last son of Krypton, and Abraham wears an "S" shaped locket around his neck. Despite these similarities and homages, Steelheart still comes across as an original take on the superhero mythos and will definitely appeal to fans of Tom Reynold's Meta and the Double Helix series by Jade Kerrion. There is a good chance that Steelheart will be picked up by Hollywood and will grace the silverscreen in the not to distant future. What I would like to see is a video-game adaptation of this book. Would I read the inevitable sequel? Most definitely, yes.
Like several of Sanderson's novels the story is concentrated within one particular city and almost all the action is city based. The city, Newcago, is envisioned as some type of post-apocalyptic Chicago where the eponymous Steelheart has consolidated his own personal empire. The city is a believable creation with every non-living thing transmogrified into steel, the people living in cramped underground dwellings and the city kept in perpetual darkness by one of Steelheart's lieutenants, Nightwielder. The tense and depressed atmosphere that would be in such a city is readily apparent through the writing.
This is another example of Sanderson's ability to create very believable and fully dimensional worlds. Usually he produces fantasy lands or alternate magical worlds to our own. However, this book offers a possible future for our own modern world. It is every bit as rich and thought out though. Like many of Sanderson's invented worlds it is interesting enough to want to know far more about. Hopefully this will happen in later books.
The small group of leading protagonists are all fairly well characterised but all require more development and growth. The events of this novel are over too short a time for the reader to really get to know them and often they appear to be a little like stereotypes of military or revolutionary figures. Hopefully this will be improved in later books of the series. Certain characters do become immediately more interesting within the closing stages of the novel.
The lead character's use of clumsy metaphors is annoying, however, and distracts a lot from the enjoyment of the story. They seem unnecessary and out of place. They are obviously an effort to provide some light entertainment but this feels wrong considering the serious atmosphere of the book. Although such things would easily be at home in some of Sanderson's other work; just not this one.
Overall it's a promising start to a new series.
I really enjoyed it, can't wait for the sequel and would happily watch a film/series based on the outline.
Standard Sanderson tenets of unique magic systems, a lead character who is "alternative" but likeable. the supporting cast suit the feel of the book - the good guys are gallant or funny or both, the bad guys are despicable or funny or both. And that is what this book is - funny. The best slice of tongue in cheek cheese - because I believe Sanderson understands that the strength of this story would not have been served in a Matrix style catalogue of biblical/oriental/philosophical pretentiousness (by the way I love the Matrix) but appealing to those of us who loved the old school hero capers as much as the slightly serious stuff of Nolan's Batman etc (which I also loved)...but this is like the Boys' own adventure stuff that we grew up with as kids - a more grown up Goonies may stretch it a bit far but I hope you see what I mean!
Has Sandersons standard magic/world system built in.
This work examines the myth of the superhero and turns it on its head. If someone has powers they cant be a hero.
The titular Steelheart is a take on a superman and not a good one. he is the mystery and the villain of the piece.
The puzzle is how to kill him. By the end of the story - the reveal is long telegraphed but the how to kill him is a nice twist.
The clue is in the name - all the way through.
Decent work - falling a way short of his other works in depth though. Ive had a friend label it as YA - and though i dont agree - its understandable given its comparison to Sandersons other work.
A relatively easy read. Worth it but a tad disappointig for some fans.
I find it easy to immerse myself in the world Sanderson creates and the characters are always well written. I also like the way he gives just enough away for you to guess that plot twists are coming, but without making it easy to guess what those twists are or making it predictable.
Kinda want him to commit to series though. He keeps setting up phenomenal universes with complex concepts and perfect rule-sets
But then rather than making the rest of the series, just starts a new one.
Love you bud, but please no more series until you finish the current ones!