Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Steelheart review

I should have learned long ago when my older brother handed me The Hobbit to trust his taste in books. Still, it's taken a couple years. There have been many cases when he would recommend a book, I'd tell him I'd get to it eventually, and then go about my daily life thinking I could find books perfectly well myself, thanks.

Then, since I'd delayed reading Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson much longer than necessary, he bought a copy and gave it to me. Since then I've been a bit more willing to trust. Also, he no longer has to remind me to read Brandon Sanderson's books.

I read Steelheart last week with high hopes. In short, it met expectations I might have had for any other book with its premise, but didn't quite reach typical Sandersonian levels of awesome.

Don't get me wrong. I liked it quite a lot. We've got an evil superpowered ruler and a team of resisters. We've got cool technology and character development. We've got edge-of-the-seat moments sprinkled with the ethics of rebellion.

What we're missing is the Brandon Avalanche -- the part of the book where stuff starts happening and then holy cow I didn't think of that and then things keep happening and, by the end, you're left in awe of the sheer brilliance of all the plot details and action you couldn't have imagined coming together in so short a time. Instead, we get a somewhat tamer climax.

But there are more books coming, and there are still questions unanswered. Nicely done, Sanderson.

As per usual, things were most exciting when we got to see the worldbuilding work. Supervillains -- called Epics -- exercise their powers and succumb to weaknesses. A city turned entirely to steel changes the lives of the people of Newcago. And we see how these things changed how one young man grew up -- David, the main character.

David is kind of awkward. I had to accept the awkwardness as part of the character and not the writing itself, but once I did, I was willing to go along with some of the running jokes (David's inability to make a good metaphor, being distracted in his thoughts as he talks to the reader, etc.). It works to show a kid who didn't get a normal childhood because he was too busy plotting revenge on his father's killer and still has some growing up to do. (Seeing this quirky 18-year-old guy launched into a group of hardened fighters is pretty endearing.)

The book isn't long, but it's packed full. Details are dropped at a headlong run as the story progresses, which was great, but description isn't Sanderson's strongest point. Again, I got used to it as we went along, but I might have wished some of the information to be more smoothly integrated into the plot. Usually I cared too much about what was happening for it to pull me out.

Team and leadership dynamics are some of Sanderson's favorite things, and we revisit those here. I love that in a tough, dystopian world, Sanderson makes his characters laugh. The thing is, he seems to like to do that by inserting at least one character who acts the clown. I love zany, humorous characters, but it's just not as fun when an author uses the same zany, humorous character every time (okay, so just once before in Alloy of Law, but still).

I've been nitpicking, but that doesn't negate the fact that I read this book within a day even though I kept telling myself I had homework to do. Do yourself a favor. Read this one, and then wait breathlessly for Firefight to come out next year.

And Mr. Sanderson? Bring back the avalanche. I know you want to.

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