Everyone loves a good superhero story. The problem is that most of them have been done and redone and redone. It’s a difficult genre to make fresh. Brandon Sanderson has somehow managed to create a fresh superhero story. Steelheart is captivating. No, the protagonist, David, is not a superhero. The story is instead about how this normal boy becomes a freedom fighter in a world where normal humans all of the sudden start developing super-human traits.
The theme is, quite clearly, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Or does it? These super humans quickly become tyrants and the story picks up just over a decade after these abilities started manifesting themselves. The Epics, as they are called, have taken their places as rulers all across the globe. And the normal people have acquiesced to their rule, since there really isn’t anything they can do about it, just survive if they can. But there is a small group of rebels out there, The Reckoners. They fight the Epics.
David’s father was murdered in front of him by an Epic named Steelheart on the day Steelheart took over Chicago. David’s entire life has been about revenge, and the only way he can think to get it is to join The Reckoners, the only people with enough courage to fight.
It struck me that the story of David and The Reckoners is the story of Neo from The Matrix. Now, don’t misunderstand me. Steelheart is not similar to The Matrix. The themes are completely different, the characters are different, their goals, kinda similar but the object of said goals completely different. But David’s specific journey mirrors Neo’s journey to an uncanny degree…
A gifted guy on his own, living in an autocratic state (though Neo was unaware this was the case at first), following the movement of an underground group that is fighting against the tyranny. He finds said group and joins them, learning how to fight the enemy, using his skills to figure them out and destroy them. David doesn’t become the leader of the Reckoners, but the leader is an almost mythical figure like Morpheus… the mentor, in both stories.
The best thing about Steelheart is the story. It’s exciting. It moves along quickly, never getting bogged down in too much detail, but still giving enough for me to clearly visualize the author’s intent. Sanderson’s vision of this dystopian future Chicago (called Newcago in the story) is immense. And he writes action so well. It made me read it with the same sense of urgency the characters were feeling, and that is no easy thing to do.
I have one issue with this novel, and it’s not really a huge thing, certainly not enough for me to not enjoy the book immensely. The story is told from David’s perspective. He’s an eighteen-year-old freedom fighter who has spent his life researching how to get revenge for the death of his father. And yet his internal dialogue most often resembles that of a thirteen-year-old who has just discovered girls for the first time, not that of a freedom fighter who spent his formative years as an orphan in dystopian Chicago. It’s just a little too juvenile. But to give a little perspective, I actually thought the same thing about some of the internal dialogue in Asimov’s Foundation series. So chew on that for a few minutes…
I do hope they are planning on making this into a movie. The story certainly lends itself to it and it seems to have been written with that in mind. There’s not a whole lot that would needed to get trimmed off. But that thing with David’s internal dialogue, that’s gotta go. As long as the themes are honored and the film doesn’t talk down to the audience or try to be for too young a crowd, I think this would do really well. A fresh take on the superhero mythos, I can appreciate that.