The main idea behind "Steelheart" is compelling and original. Steelheart is the most powerful Epic in what used to be the United States. Epics have super powers that corrupt them, robbing them of empathy and compassion, making them cruel, aggressive,and self-centred. Steelheart is who Superman might have been if he'd enjoyed killing people, wanted to dominate the world and could turn all of Chicago into steel. The Reckoners are a small group trying to discover the specific weakness that each Epic has and use it to kill him or her.
If there had been no more to the book than that, I'd have been pounding through it, enjoying the ride.
But there is more, much more."Steelheart" is a fast-paced, action-packed, young adult novel, crammed with cool weapons, wise-cracking heroes, motorbikes with gravitonics, and lots and lots of explosions. Those things would be enough to make it a great video game concept. What makes it a great story is the thoughtful approach Brandon Sanderson takes to the motivation of his characters, the world they live in, the conflicts they face, and the difficulty of deciding whether an action is right or wrong.
I've been a comic book fan since I first learnt to read (long before the term "Graphic Novel" had been coined.) I always preferred Stan Lee's characters because, powerful as they were, they were always haunted, vulnerable and fallible. I loved that he wrote lines in comic books that could have been Shakespeare. How do you beat "With great power comes great responsiblity."
Brandon Sanderson steps into Stan Lees shoes and makes them his own. He makes you care when people die. His characters are more likely to be driven by a hunger for revenge or a need for atonement or a refusal to bow their heads then they are by an ideological attachment to "truth, justice and the American way". In Sanderson's future world the invulnerable man with the super powers is not "The Man of Steel" saving the world, but a tyrant with a steel heart. His "heroes" are assassins, one step away from being terrorists, with no life other than the violent struggle to kill Epics.
Yet the best thing about Brandon Sanderson is that, as well as having great ideas, he can write. The Prologue to "Steelheart" is all you need to read to know that. You can find it HERE where the author offers it for free.
At the end of the Prologues eighteen year old Dave Charleston, remembering the day his father was killed, ten years earlier, says:
"I've seen Steelheart bleed. And I will see him bleed again."
This sent a Stan Lee shiver of anticipation down my spine that the rest of the book lived up to.
Let me paraphrase that:
"I've seen Brandon Sanderson write. And I will see him write again."
My thanks to Glenn Hates Books who's review convinced me to read "Steelheart". You can find his review HERE