Steelheart – Brandon Sanderson

Sorry, it’s been a while. I may have acquired a 3DS recently and uh… well… the results are not good for my book-reading. Thankfully, I am so poor that I can’t buy many games. On the other hand, one game seems to keep me going for a couple of weeks. I’ll try to overcome this terrible onslaught of technology, though, especially as the boyfriend (being an excellent human being) has acquired a copy of Republic of Thieves for me to read. In the meantime, I was on a train today, so I read one of Sanderson’s most recent offerings. I have… mixed feelings.

For starters, it’s quite a break from how Sanderson seems to do things normally. Most of his stuff is set in generic fantasyland, and the one thing I’ve read before that isn’t (Alloy of Law), I really really didn’t like. A lot. This worried me, going in to Steelheart. Part of me suspected that Sanderson just isn’t good at modern settings (ssssh, I’m a Classicist, Westerns are basically this year as far as I’m concerned), and so even if he had a good story for Steelheart, he’d be let down by not being in his element. I’m glad to say I was kinda wrong about that. But only kinda.

The setting of Steelheart is GOOD. I enjoy the idea of superheroes being evil, and people being unable to manage the powers they suddenly acquired without turning nasty (*LOOK TO BOTTOM OF PAGE FOR SPOILERY THOUGHTS) and using their power to take over the world. The shattered USA scenario is pleasingly realistic, and he doesn’t fall into too many clichĂ©s of post-apocalyptic novels while doing so. Kudos. Where I think it does fall down, however, is that Sanderson still writes slightly fantasyworld characters, even in a modern setting. Only slightly, though. They’re quite modern-person, but I just get a sense of not-right about them, and I can only put it down to them having the flavour of his normal genre about them. It’s not a massive problem, really, but it niggles.

Also niggly are the characters in general. They just don’t seem all that fleshed out. The lead, David, only gets internal monologue about his awful metaphors (which strike me as too deliberately quirky anyway, and in an annoying way) and his love interest. Which is depressingly two dimensional. Love interest has some Back Story, as do some of the others, and it gets revealed in bits and bobs, but it doesn’t really contribute to them as people. It’s just interesting facts. Very interesting, and facts I wanted to learn to understand how the story fitted together, but not facts that made any difference whatsoever to my understanding of how they were fitted together as people. What there is, as with David, just seems overstressedly quirky, and it grates.

I’m not sure the calibre of the story can fully support the weight of the character-fail, either. I mean, it’s good. I liked it. It flows nicely and isn’t predictable – there are some lovely surprises along the way and the pacing is great. But it’s not uh-mazing. It’s no Way of Kings, that’s for sure. With decent characters, I could love this book. With a stunning plotline, I could love it. But everything is mediocre at best, other than the setting, and man cannot live on good world-building alone. That said, it’s meant to be the start of a series, and I will certainly be reading the sequels. Maybe as he gets into the setting, Sanderson will find his feet, and it does feel like something that could grow into excellence. It’s just not there yet. I have enough love for Sanderson as an author, however, that I am willing to have faith. So it’s very much a Could Do Better novel. Not the best recommendation, I have to say.

Next time (which will be next week because I forgot to bring it with me) REPUBLIC OF THIEVES. YESSSSS. I AM TOLD IT IS EXCELLENT. Be prepared for me to get a bit mental about it.

*I actually think Sanderson undermines a lot of what makes the book good at the end, when he reveals that the use of Epic powers is what drives people to nastiness. People who don’t use them for a while return to being decent human beings and that feels a lot less… commentary on the tragedy of human nature. It’s different, which is nice, but I kinda like the pessimism of “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It’s nice to read a book that basically says “you can’t have superheroes. Wielding god-like powers would just make them into evil megalomaniacs because secretly that’s what people want and having the power would allow them to be. HUMANS ARE AWFUL. HAPPY FUN TIME STORIES FOR YOU” because I get sick of happy stories about love conquering all, and persistence overcoming diversity. By making it not a commentary on human nature but just a magical side-effect, Sanderson makes the whole book a lot less of a pessimistic dystopia, and I think it loses a lot for that. It’s cool as a twist, but I don’t think the ingenuity of that makes up for what the story loses. But that’s just me.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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One Response to Steelheart – Brandon Sanderson

  1. Pingback: The City’s Son – Tom Pollock | A Reader of Else

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