Recent listening: STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson

This is a twelve-hour audiobook with a good narrator and generally a fast enough pace and witty enough dialogue to be fun to listen to while driving or weeding (the two activities for which I most need audiobooks). I enjoyed it quite a bit, with some caveats.

The idea: this is a supervillain story! I didn’t know that. I’ve had it on my TBL pile for a while, but had forgotten any description of the book before I started listening to it. Nor do I like to read reviews before I get around to a book; I don’t generally want a lot of spoilers. So I’d forgotten what STEELHEART was about. As I say, it turns out it’s about supervillains – “Epics” – people who got superpowers of various types when Calamity (a mysterious astronomical or alien object) appeared in the sky a decade or two back.


Epics are all evil. Using their powers makes them be evil, so there aren’t any heroes. Their appearance spelled the end of civilization as we know it. Steelheart himself is the most powerful and most evil Epic of them all. He is Emperor of the city that used to be Chicago, thus demonstrating that he is also ignorant as a pig, because seriously, Emperor? Of one city? I guess he thought the title sounded cool and doesn’t care that if you just rule one city, you are hardly an emperor.

The characters:

David is the first-person pov protagonist. We see the whole story through his eyes. He’s basically a kid, eighteen or twenty. The book opens with a prologue where David’s father is killed by Steelheart, and of course David is determined to kill Steelheart in revenge. This is tricky because Steelheart is completely invulnerable. Well, all right, *almost* completely invulnerable. David’s father wounded him, so David knows Steelheart must have a weakness and he is determined to figure out what that weakness is.

David is okay as the protagonist. He’s smart, determined, and a decent guy. I liked him, though to me he was actually less interesting than most of the important secondary characters.

Given that he’s a smart guy and thoroughly obsessed with Epics in general and Steelheart in particularly, it’s kind of ridiculous that David doesn’t immediately lay out Steelheart’s three most likely weaknesses. I mean, he was right there when Steelheart killed his father. He saw the interaction between them. So this is the most important caveat for me: David is incredibly dumb about that.

So is everyone else. David describes that incident to the Reckoners after he joins them, and none of them twig either. Sanderson is trying so hard to reserve the likely weaknesses, but the reader most likely pegs them immediately. I was mentally shouting at all the characters: OF COURSE IT’S A, B, or C, YOU DIMWITS, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU literally from the very beginning. They didn’t even think of A or B until 80 or 90 percent of the way through the book, and then obviously it was going to be C, since that’s the one they hadn’t thought of.

Which makes me very curious: if you have read this, *did* you feel that Steelheart’s potential weaknesses were blazingly obvious right from the moment the reader is told that Epics have weaknesses? I really felt that Sanderson was “writing down” to his readers in preventing his characters from figuring that stuff out for such a long time. But if many readers don’t twig early, maybe I’m wrong.

The strength of the story: The secondary characters.

I loved Prof. I say this even though a particular important revelation about Prof is so extremely obvious that it shouldn’t count as a spoiler. But just in case I’m wrong about that, I won’t give it away here. Anyway, I did love Prof. If this book were to be turned into a movie, he’d present the most important casting decision. I have the most definite idea about what he looks like, his attitude, the way he moves, everything. Here we see how important the narrator of an audiobook is, because I think the narrator got Prof’s voice just right.

I enjoyed Cody, too. He’s so ridiculously straight-faced when he tells David the Prof’s weird technology works because of fairies and demons. He’s ridiculously straight-faced no matter what he comes out with. He might have been my favorite character in the whole book.

I liked Abraham a lot, too. Tia was more of a nonentity. Megan annoyed me, but got more interesting toward the end. Those were the main characters in the story – David, Prof, Cody, Abraham, Tia, and Megan were the Reckoners we met, and the interaction among them was the best part. The setting was just okay for me. The plot was fine; it gets docked ten points for extreme-ultra-mega-obviousness about Steelheart’s weaknesses and a couple other details; but it gets five points back for genuinely surprising me several times with important plot points.

Do I plan to go on with the rest of the series? Sure, probably, but unlike with, say, Kirstein’s Steerswoman series, I feel no immediate need to go on with it this minute. Too bad, since Sanderson’s series is finished and Kirstein’s is not.

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