Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson: Excellent YA Novel

I've become a big enough fan of Brandon Sanderson's that I will buy any of his books now, sight unseen. There is only one other author (well, pair of authors) that I will do that with, and that's the Pendergast books by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. And that's mostly because I own the others, and I want all of them, but those I buy in paperback. Sanderson's books, I buy first edition HC. He's that reliably good.

I went to a Sanderson book signing a couple of years ago for... "Legion", I think... and he mentioned that he was working on his first YA book- a story about a boy who lives in a world where everyone with super powers is evil and he has to fight them without having any superpowers himself. That book is "Steelheart". I thought it sounded fantastic, and now, having read that book, I am not disappointed.

From the first page, "Steelheart" is high-adrenaline action. The pacing seems especially aimed at teenage boys, though (obviously I'm not a teenage boy!) anyone can and will enjoy it. The speed of the action reminded me of watching a Bourne movie. Instead of slowing down a little for world building, as in epic fantasy, or for deep character development, Steelheart contains a perfect balance of information intertwined with action, and readers gain understanding of the world around the characters, and a good sense of the characters themselves. It takes real talent to weave character and setting into the action so well that you don't realize it's happening.

The mystery of "Calamity"- the red star or whatever-it-is that appeared in the sky 10 years ago is compelling, and I look forward to learning more about that in future books. This book was a very good setup book. We went on the main character, David's, journey to wage his personal revenge on "Steelheart". We met the Reckoners- a group of "normal" humans fighting back against the Epics (those with powers). David found a love interest. The rest would be spoilers, so I won't share more, but it's a great story that leaves the future wide open for a series or a TV show or even a movie.

The book is lightweight enough that it would translate very well to the big screen, but weighty enough that when it ended, I wanted more. There are good battle scenes, the evil in the story isn't sugar-coated, Disney-fied evil. It's real, gritty, horrifying evil. And the good people are a mixture of imperfection, heartfelt effort, conflicting emotions, uncertainty and hope. Just like real "good" people. Like all of Brandon Sanderson's stories, "Steelheart" also has humor and heart and that's really where a great storyteller shines.

Sensitivity warnings: Sanderson is very good at fictional fantasy (or dystopic) world-based swears and in this book, there are no cusses that belong to us in our world. There is no sexuality, either. The violence, though, is not for the very young. I would be fine with my 14 and 17 year old sons reading "Steelheart", but I probably won't recommend it to my 11-year old daughter just yet. It is YA, not elementary school level, mostly (I surmise) because of the depth of the depravity of the baddies in the book, (in the opening scene a baby is killed in its mother's arms, and many other innocents are murdered) as well as mature elements regarding the conflict between right and wrong. 

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