Audiobook Review: Steelheart

Steel heartSteelheart (Reckoners #1)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Narrated by: Macleod Andrews
Originally Published: 2013
Length: 12 hrs 14 mins
Why I read it: Review request
Where I got it: Audible.com

Quick thoughts: A crackling sci-fi thriller that already has me aching to read the next book in the series.

If some cataclysmic event caused a handful of people to develop superpowers, comic books have taught us to believe that superheroes would rise up to enforce justice against villains who might abuse those powers. Brandon Sanderson’s latest novel, Steelheart, imagines a near-future world where that isn’t necessarily the case. If I tried selling the story with a quick pitch, it would be to imagine a world where Superman is evil and average people must find a way to defeat him. It’s a twist that hones the tension to a keen edge, and Sanderson has delivered a real knockout in this first instalment of what will almost certainly be a stellar series.

After reading Legion, Sanderson’s novella from last year, I had high hopes that he would use the ideas behind that piece as a springboard into something unique. As much as wrapping up the Wheel of Time series did wonders for publicity, I think it also threatened to pigeonhole him as a Robert Jordan derivative. Legionreally showcased his potential in thinking up innovative stories well outside the confines of high fantasy, and now Steelheart proves there’s plenty more inspiration in that creative well.

If there’s one element I’ve come to love about Sanderson’s approach, it’s that that he is very rule-oriented. Each of his books is based on a unique magic system that functions as logically and consistently as elements in a periodic table. Moving into the dystopian sci-fi world of Steelheart, the supporting framework really isn’t much different from his high fantasy worlds. Each Epic has both a primary and secondary superpower, along with a corollary weakness. These powers are then further categorized into broader categories with defining traits, and each Epic has a degree of power which functions as a multiplication factor. In many ways it reads like a novelized role playing game with all the regalia of geekdom. The beauty of it, though, is that it provides a logical consistency to the whole. I might chuckle and laugh at some of the plot elements, but I’ll never feel as though Sanderson cheated in finding a way to bridge a plot hole.

Although this book is being marketed as a teen novel, I’m tempted to say that’s a bit of a misnomer. I’m not suggesting that the content is inappropriate—Sanderson’s writing has always been and likely will always be squeaky-clean—but it would be like calling The Avengers a kid’s movie. Don’t be misled by the marketing. If you like books where you can’t help but give a few adrenaline-fuelled fist-pumping whoops, then Steelheartis definitely worth your attention.

Audiobook notes: The narration by Macleod Andrews was fantastic, although I say that with a mild caveat. The text was read so slowly that I was on the verge of gouging out my own eyes. After bumping up the playback speed on my iPod to 1.5x, though, it was silky-smooth perfection. Andrews was exceptional in creating distinctive voices for all of the characters, and it often felt more like a radio play than a novel. In fact, his performance was so outstanding that this Canuck can even forgive him for giving the French Canadian a Parisian accent (the difference between soft and harsh sounds, or “zee accent” compared to “da haxENT”). This style of book is already perfectly suited to great audiobook narration in the first place, but Andrews really takes it to the next level. Well, at 1.5X speed anyways, and that’s enough for a strong recommendation in my book.

From the Publisher:

From the number-one New York Times best-selling author of the Mistborn Trilogy, Brandon Sanderson, comes the first book in a new, action-packed thrill ride of a series – Steelheart. Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

Nobody fights the Epics…nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart – the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning – and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed.

And he wants revenge.

Brandon SandersonBrandon Sanderson was born in 1975 in Lincoln, Nebraska. As a child Brandon enjoyed reading, but he lost interest in the types of titles often suggested to him, and by junior high he never cracked a book if he could help it. This changed when an eighth grade teacher gave him Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly.

Brandon was working on his thirteenth novel when Moshe Feder at Tor Books bought the sixth he had written. Tor has published Elantris , the Mistborn trilogy and its followup The Alloy of Law, Warbreaker, and The Way of Kings, the first in the planned ten-volume series The Stormlight Archive. He was chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series; 2009’s The Gathering Storm and 2010’s Towers of Midnight were followed by the final book in the series, A Memory of Light, in January 2013. Four books in his middle-grade Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians series were released by Scholastic, and his novella Infinity Blade Awakening was an ebook bestseller for Epic Games accompanying their acclaimed Infinity Blade iOS video game series. Two more novellas, Legion and The Emperor's Soul, were released by Subterranean Press and Tachyon Publications in 2012, and 2013 brings two young adult novels, The Rithmatist from Tor and Steelheart from Delacorte.

The only author to make the short list for the David Gemmell Legend Award six times in four years, Brandon won that award in 2011 for The Way of Kings. The Emperor’s Soul won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novella. He has hit the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Best-Seller List seven times, with all three Wheel of Time books hitting the #1 spot.

Currently living in Utah with his wife and children, Brandon teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University.