I should start by being honest. I’m sort of a Brandon Sanderson fanboy. I could go on and on about his style of prose, ability to create and shape complex characters and his masterful world building but I’ll save that for future posts. I’ve actually spent most of the last year reading his work and most recently finished book two, Words of Radiance, of his Stormlight Archive series. Between his run at finishing Robert Jordan’s expansive Wheel of Time series, the standalone novel Elantris and his original Mistborn trilogy, it’s been fun watching as his ability to tell a story has shifted and grown. He’s a writer who spends a lot of time with his characters, knowing them inside and out before committing them to the page and it shows in the work.
When I heard that he had written a young adult fantasy novel about superheroes, I knew it was something I would have to read. Steelheart is the first book in yet another Sanderson trilogy called The Reckoners and is followed by the book Firefight. Book three, Calamity, is due out early next year. The series follows the young protagonist David who lives in a world where a giant ball of light in the sky appears one day and gives certain people super powers. Instead of creating heroes though, these powers created tyrants who decided to shape the world to their own desires and rule over the power-less populace with iron fists. Out of this disaster rose a group of rebels calling themselves The Reckoners, who deemed it their duty to fight back against the powerful hierarchy of villains. In the first novel, we meet David as he tries to join the elusive and secretive group after one of these super-powered baddies (the titular Steelheart) kills his father.
What stood out to me was the style that the book was written. Unlike the previous Sanderson novels I’d read, these books were written for the young adult crowd; those teens and pre-teens who love to read about other young people doing extraordinary things, standing up to authority and doing it all with an in-your-face attitude. Hell, I like reading those kinds of books too. At first, I found David, as the book’s narrator, to be a little juvenile and perhaps even a bit annoying. The language used wasn’t like the prose I’d come to expect from Sanderson’s high and urban fantasy novels. It was more down to earth and unsophisticated. Essentially it was the language you’d expect to hear from a kid. Which in a way was exactly what was needed. It’s not that David wasn’t a capable character; he shows on many occasions that he can take care of himself even as the adults in the story try to undermine his abilities. It’s more that by writing David as exactly what he is, Sanderson is able to make this extraordinary young person relatable. Normal even. He doesn’t talk in grand monologues, using words taken from a dusty Webster’s Dictionary. He talks like a kid does. He makes bad puns, stammers and mumbles and can’t help but be excited when he finally comes face to face with a personal hero.
David, as a kid, is allowed to grow and learn new things along with the reader, all while getting to display his own unique skill set that makes him a great addition to the Reckoner team. The adults he shares page space with aren’t just cookie cutter archetypes (Though, yes they do, for the most part, fit into the established adventure-character-types which honestly are clichés for a reason. Because they work.) but complex characters in their own right. But as most adults are, especially as perceived by young people, they can be stubborn and hard set with their perceptions about how the world works. In his role as new team member and resident fresh-faced teen, David breathes new air into the stale team, adding additional layers to their narrow-minded goals. David asks why right along with the reader and forces these rebels to ask why as well.
The entertainment industry is saturated with superheroes right now. That Sanderson could take this popular and ubiquitous idea and still squeeze out some original detail is something to be lauded. The book I’m reading now, by V.E. Schwab also deals with superheroes in a new way, which is totally refreshing in this day and age. It is always great when an author can put new spins into old ideas and find a way to make it work. Sanderson definitely makes it work. Both Steelheart and Firefight are fun and fast reads and provide real thrills and drama, as well as nice dashes of comedy. These are books you can read on a Saturday afternoon with either a glass of wine or cup of orange juice, feet up on the couch or cross-legged in the grass.