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Steelheart (The Reckoners) Paperback – September 23, 2014
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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.
From School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-This fun, fast-paced, futuristic science-fiction superhero story is the first in a projected series. When David was six, an unexplained explosion in the sky caused perpetual darkness and ordinary people to gain supernatural powers. These people became known as Epics. Two years later, in a bank in what was once Chicago, now called Newcago, David witnessed Steelheart, one of the most powerful Epics of all, murder his father. In the 10 years since his father's death, David has made it his mission to learn all he can about Epics. Everyone thinks they are invincible, but he knows otherwise. He knows that each one has a weakness, and he's seen Steelheart's. Steelheart can bleed. David intends to get his revenge. A cowed populace accepts the fact that Epics control their lives and the strongest among them are in a constant battle for dominance. Only one shadowy group of ordinary humans called the Reckoners dare fight to eliminate them. David persuades the Reckoners to let him join their ranks after proving he has unique knowledge about Epics. This enjoyable read focuses more on action than character development and is perfect for genre fans who love exciting adventure stories with surprising plot twists. Readers will be rooting for David, a super geek with a love of weapons, who can hold his own against Epics with names like Nightwielder, Conflux, or Firefight.-Sharon Rawlins, New Jersey State Library,Trentonα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The premise of the book is the world has become overrun with superpowered humans called Epics. Unfortunately, rather than being a bunch of superheroes, they have all proven to be one variety of psychopath or another. The worst of them is the Superman analogue, Steelheart, who has taken over Newcago and turned it into an urban Mordor with an eternal darkness over it. David Charleston, a survivor of one of Steelheart's attacks as a boy, has since devoted his entire life to destroying Steelheart. To this end, he's tracked down what passes for a resistance against the Epics in the Reckoners.
It took me a bit to get into the universe because decades of X-men fandom have conditioned me to believe when a bunch of humans want to murder the people with superpowers, they're the evil Nazi types. However, in this universe, it really is the regular humans who are trying to get by while invulnerable flying ****bags are blasting them from space. At least, that's the way it is made to appear and the truth is (as always) more complicated than it first appears.
Once I got into the universe, I really dug how it all tied together. Brandon managed to create a world which really did feel like an interesting comic book setting. Basically, something similar to Wild Cards except even more dark and twisted in its results. It, particularly, reminded me of the Squadron Supreme comics and a much-much better written Wanted. There's only a few references to how badly the world has become outside of Newcago but these little tidbits paint a vivid picture of just how horrible life under a world of evil superhumans might be.
David Charleston is a delightful parody of Batman meets Spiderman in the fact he's basically an example of just what would happen if you gave Batman's origin and drive to a kid who didn't have Bruce Wayne's millions. David has all of the knowledge and training which he could get without resources but comes off as more dorky than terrifying since this is limited to being a gun-toting superhero nerd. The fact this character works as well as he does is impressive and I swiftly warmed up to the guy.
I also was a big fan of supporting characters Megan and the Prof. I figured out both their secrets fairly early but that just goes to show Brandon Sanderson did a good job laying out the clues. I also like how Megan deals with David's crush on her, which is to say she acknowledges it but politely ignores it as best you can. That's about as realistic as you can get in these sorts of books. I also like how the Prof is basically a good-guy version of Lex Luthor fighting evil Superman and no one seems to realize it.
The character of Steelheart is a bit underwhelming as he has very little characterization other than being an enormously paranoid fascist monster. He works fine as an antagonist due to the fact everything in David's life is devoted to destroying him, so it doesn't matter what his idealogy (if any) is. Still, I do think the causally psychopathic nature of the Epics is kind of a storytelling cheat which walls of them as anything but killable enemies. At least, well, at the start.
In conclusion, this is a really entertaining book and I've picked up the rest of the trilogy based on my enjoyment of it. It's one of the best superhero novels I've read and I think anyone who loves the genre will enjoy it.
David, the main character, had such clever ideas to kill superheroes that seemed impossible to kill. For example, a superhero (the book calls them Epics) that could see the future could be killed in a scenario where all of his choices led to death.
I liked the ethical questions that Steelheart made me think about while I was reading it. Do only terrible people get powers or do powers make everyone terrible? Would I be a good person if I had unlimited power? In book club we discussed how Epics could be a metaphor for power like huge amounts of money and it was a great discussion about what we would do with billions of dollars. How selfless would we really be?
I loved the writing in this book. There was great foreshadowing and a cool twist that I didn’t see coming. Steelheart was by far my favorite in this series.
There was one writing gimmick that I did not enjoy. David only comes up with bad metaphors as he’s thinking to himself or talking to others. Here’s an example:
But even a ninety-year-old blind priest would stop and stare at this woman. If he weren’t blind, that is. Dumb metaphor, I thought. I’ll have to work on that one. I have trouble with metaphors.
-Brandon Sanderson, Steelheart (p. 25).
That just makes me cringe not only because it’s so incredibly awkward but also because of how blatantly it’s brought to my attention. I think the author was trying to show David’s self-consciousness but it would have worked so much better if it had been subtle instead of the author taking time to point out “Hey did you notice how bad these metaphors are? Because they’re bad!” Other characters start pointing out how bad his metaphors are and I feel like I’m partly reading a superhero story and partly reading an English class discussion on metaphors. What the heck. Wouldn’t people in conversation just call them comparisons? And why do all these characters care so much about how good he is at metaphors? And how much are they analyzing everything he says to come to the conclusion that he’s terrible with metaphors? The characters had entire conversations about it. Subtly could have really sold something quirky like this, but the way it’s written stuck out enough that it took me out of the story. This story was amazing and didn’t need a gimmick like that. I still gave this book 5 stars even though I have this complaint because that's how good this story was.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Brandon Sanderson in his Reckoners series has done an amazing job of turning the prototypical superhero genre on its head.Read more