I love superheroes. Superhero movies are my go-to entertainment at any given point in time. If I’m having a bad day, I’ll find an MCU movie to make myself feel better. There’s something about watching guys and girls with awesome powers saving the world that just makes me feel good.
Steelheart spoke to me on a fundamental fangirl level. Because Steelheart is all about superheroes. Only, with a twist:
Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.
Nobody fights the Epics…nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.
And David wants in. He wants Steelheart – the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning – and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.
He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.
In Steelheart, the superheroes, or the Epics, are all evil and it’s up to a small band of ordinary human beings, with no powers, to stand up to them. It’s amazing.
I think my favourite twist, apart from the whole humans-saving-humans-from-superheroes thing, was that Steelheart, the eponymous Epic, is essentially an evil Superman. He can fly, he’s invincible, and, well, just listen to this description:
Steelheart landed between them. My breath caught in my throat, and I fell utterly still.
He’d changed little in the decade since he destroyed the bank. He had the same arrogant expression, the same perfectly styled hair. That inhumanly toned and muscled body, shrouded in a black and silver cape.
What I like to think is that, with the prolific nature of superhero movies and TV shows at the moment, Sanderson thought to himself “yeah, but what if all the heroes were actually villains?”. And so we got Steelheart. I loved the premise. But, most importantly, I loved the execution of the premise.
This book reads as a cross between a comic book and an action film. The book is set in Newcago, a city where Steelheart erupted with rage and accidentally turned everything that wasn’t alive into steel (this is tackled so beautifully, by the way. Sanderson takes time out to explain how amenities in Newcago work, seeing as how everything was turned to steel. It’s incredible).
The steel landscape lends itself to the comic book feel; as does the fact that the current fashion in this futuristic place is 1920s chic. I kept getting flashes of comic book artwork where everyone was dressed up as gangsters from the 1920s in their suits and their fedoras and their flapper dresses, while also toting weaponry that Captain Malcolm Reynolds would envy.
But then there’s the fact that the Reckoners act exactly as one of those “merry bands of misfits” that always seem to save the universe in an MCU movie (well, Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy movies). The team has this witty rapport going, complete with banter and nicknames.
Sanderson is very good at red herrings. Although, I blame the fact that I’m currently dating a writer for the fact that I saw the big twist coming. The boyfriend is really good at predicting the shape of stories and that skill has slowly been seeping into me. BUT there is a character death that I definitely did not see coming. I was shocked. I love being shocked. And there were a few minor details that turned out a lot differently than how I thought they would. I adore when that happens.
But, possibly, my favourite part of the book was the fact that Sanderson’s narrator was terrible at metaphors. This entire book is told from David’s point of view. And, since he has dedicated his life to researching both the Epics and the Reckoners, his writing skills leave a little to be desired. So when he tried to come up with comparative metaphors, they always came way out of left field and, while they always made sense, if I had tried to write them in one of my Creative Writing assignments, I’m fairly sure I would have been kicked out of my degree. I mean, just check this out:
“It makes sense! Listen. A brick is supposed to be strong, right? But if one were secretly made of porridge, and all the other bricks didn’t know, he’d sit around worrying that he’d be weak when the rest of them were strong. He’d get smooshed when he was placed in the wall, you see, maybe get some of his porridge mixed in with that stuff they stick between bricks.”
It takes a special kind of author to make something bad but brilliant at the same time. This is consciously awful but it makes sense. These aren’t like those horrific metaphors you see posted on Tumblr by frustrated high school english teachers. These are terrible metaphors constructed in such a way as to be brilliant. It’s like Megan says, while she and David are trying to escape Enforcement (Steelheart’s police officers):
“I mean, bad puns are something of an art, right? So why not bad metaphors?”
All you really need to know about Steelheart is the premise: evil superheroes trying to be overthrown by ordinary people. But, as some back-up info, the premise is well-executed, there is no gratuitous romance, and the humour is beautiful.
You also need to know that this is the first book in a series, because once you read Steelheart, you will be hooked. Like I am.
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