Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Steelheart Steelheart
by Brandon Sanderson

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Simon Litten
Jacqui Smith

Super-heroes and super-villains are the new vogue. Well not exactly the new vogue because in comic book form they never lost their appeal, but they have now broken out of that cultural ghetto to the book form of publishing with Steelheart being Brandon Sanderson’s opening (book one of a trilogy) contribution to this sphere of the medium.

Steelheart is set in a world dominated by Epics, self-aggrandising villains with strange and mysterious super powers, such as the ability to manifest illusions, but who have become unpredictable psychopaths. And in a Chicago a few years from now where an extremely powerful Epic, the eponymous Steelheart, holds sway. But all Epics have a weakness and David, who saw his father killed by Steelheart ten years ago, thinks he know Steelheart’s. And David is bent on destroying this villain.

Steelheart could very easily have been written and drawn as a comic book as it uses the tropes and manners of that form, but by staying solely with the written word Brandon Sanderson has had to draw the scenery and action with words – and he has done that very well.

Steelheart is a modern fantasy using super-heroes and villains instead of swords and magic one normally encounters in a fantasy. The joy of this book is that David is not a preternaturally gifted child wielding a strategic slingshot against a legion of Epic Goliaths. Whether that changes as this series unfolds we as readers will just have to wait to see, but for now a thinking ordinary can beat a gifted extraordinary – and that is not something one sees in most fantasy.

- Simon Litten

Wow! Brandon Sanderson takes the superpower meme and makes it epic! Literally, because "Epic" is what Sanderson calls superpowered individuals, and metaphorically because this novel reads like an epic fantasy. Urban fantasy, because like most stories featuring superpowers, this is set in the immediate future. But not any future you’d recognise. You’ll notice that I’ve avoided the term "superhero" in this review and there is a reason for that. Sanderson has chosen to take Lord Acton’s adage that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" and apply it to superpowers. So the use of Epic powers turns an individual to an insane megalomaniac? Pretty much.

An Epic named Steelheart rules Newcago with a steel fist, with a coterie of other Epics, among them Nightwielder, Conflux, and Firefight. Our youthful hero lives with the knowledge that as a child he saw his father wound Steelheart and then be killed by him. Consequently, he hates Epics with a passion. But Steelheart, like many Epics, is invulnerable to almost all attacks. Somehow, David’s father had found his weakness. And so he seeks out the Reckoners, an underground group fighting the Epics, and finds them in the process of taking down an Epic named Fortuity. I have no intention of giving away any more of the plot – suffice it to say that there is no lack of action, a dose of mystery, plenty of wit, and a great twist at the end. Sanderson has a refreshing take on the science of super powers: "Too much about them breaks what science says should happen. I sometimes wonder if they came along because we thought we could explain everything." In fact, there are a lot of great lines in this novel. Very quotable. And very cinematic. Not surprising, since Sanderson is clearly angling for a movie with this one.

I requested this volume from the library after the local publishers kindly sent a review copy of the second book in the series, Firefight, and a cursory look round the internet convinced me that for once it really would be worth my while to read the first book before embarking on the second. I was not disappointed. And, now I suspect I might have to go and purchase a copy of this book!

- Jacqui Smith

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