SteelHeart (Reckoners # 1) by Brandon Sanderson: Not your traditional SuperHero novel.

So Mr.Sanderson can write a twisty fun-filled rocket-propelled urban fantasy with a young male protagonist who is hell bent on avenging his father's death.
Am I surprised? No.
Am I blown away? Ahem. not quite.
Did I like it? I loved it.

With SteelHeart - Sanderson's unique take on Superheroes, Post Apocalytic fiction and urban fantasy - he still proves he can write a racy entertaining tale as good as anyone out there. But at the end of a frenetic reading experience, this still seems like a summer internship project for Mr.Talented. Something he would write between the larger tomes he labours on. Remember those read for pleasure stories in our school? Well, this must have been his "write for pleasure" project that just took wings and blazed a new trail in the much starved urban fantasy sub-genre.

With this novel, Brandon in his own uniquely original inimitable style takes on an age-old question on superheroes and their super-powers. For when we were kids growing up on Eastman colour comics of men in their spandex tights, useless masks and flowing capes, we used to ask each other – what if we have a super-power? Invisibility? Ability to fly? An endless supply of Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jelly-Jam? According to Brandon, we become Epics. Meta-humans with super-powers extra-ordinaire. There is only one lesson for those gifted with a sense of the “meta” wishing to see any message buried beneath the lines: Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Period.

The story reads like a YA-post apocalyptic fiction chiefly because of the young protagonist, barely breaking through his teens and the wonderfully inventive world setting. Sometime in the future of mankind, a “Calamity” has occurred. It’s a celestial event – like a red star that popped into the sky and bestowed strange powers on people at random. Powers that convert these men into Epics and let them go absolutely pscyho on power-trips making them tyrants. In one of the best prologues written (And I repeat: No one…NO ONE writes a prologue like Brandon does. If anyone wants to challenge me on that, then come out. Let’s settle it once and for all, huh!) Brandon introduces us to young David: Stuck inside a bank and forced to helplessly watch as his father gets gunned down by an up and coming Epic called SteelHeart – who goes on to convert Chicago into a steel city bereft of sunlight and with steel tunnels everywhere – coining the term Newcago and who rules this city like a tight-fisted tyrant. But David has a secret: he is the only survivor to have seen SteelHeart bleed. And he vows to make him bleed again. Nursing this ambition for close to ten years, David grows up to a bitter young man with revenge on his heart and brains, choosing to join a shadowy group called Reckoners: Whose only aim is to kill Epics. The story follows David as he joins hands and plots the downfall of one of the most powerful Epics in the world.

It's at best a mediocre effort from someone as talented as Sanderson – I felt perhaps he was sleep-typing or sleep-writing the whole book-  it feels clunky at times and less polished than his usual outings. But regardless. the best thing about the book is the entertainment factor. Relentless action that is fast and furious and hits you chapter after chapter. Right from the first chapter when David is running through underground tunnels to get to a rendezvous point to watch the Reckoners execute an Epic, the headlong pace never lets up.  You just dive straight in and let yourself be flown along.

But take a moment to dig a bit deeper : This ain’t a straight forward revenge story. Clever bits and pieces of info-dump introduces a futuristic world, bleak and grey after the Epics have taken over the humanity. In terms of the characterization, it is vintage Sanderson: with a solid cast of characters: the team of reckoners that David befriends, each with a quirk of their own. But at times, it does feel a bit shallow. While a clever writing device was the use of metaphors – most of them strained and funnily inappropriate as spoken by the central characters who claim to be “bad at the use of analogies” – the humour felt a little dry and forced at times. Another usual Sanderson-technique is the magic: but with a plot that is racing headlong to a dynamite fused climax, Sanderson takes his liberty to keep the readers in the dark: especially on the origin of the “calamity” and the source of such awesome super powers. But trust me, it shouldn’t really deter the reading experience that is pure fun and energetic. Perhaps things will be explained better in book two? With a rousing finale to end book one and things poised for more interesting themes to emerge, I cannot wait for it.

But as things stand now, this is a 3-star book. Enjoyable fare, a super-fast read, a layered book that pokes fun at the superhero & post-apocalyptic genre. Bring on the words of radiance, I say. 


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