I’m enjoying all this super-powers/super-hero stuff on TV and in the movies, but I admit I’m also getting tired of how they are very similar and blending into each other. That’s one of the things I loved about Brandon Sanderson’s novel, Steelheart, and a big part of why I also loved the sequel, Firefight. In the first, we were introduced to this world where people gained super-human powers and then became super-villains, dominating the world without care for the lives of regular mortals. Mere mortal David Charleston had sought to kill Steelheart (a very powerful “epic” who ruled the city of Newcago and had murdered David’s father) with the help of the Reckoners (an underground group of anti-epic rebels). After they defeated Steelheart, this second novel continues the Reckoners’ mission to rid the world of epics by having David go to another city, Babelar (formerly New York), to defeat its ruler, Regalia (who actually drowned a large portion of the original city using her water powers). It may sound like a somewhat flimsy and repetitive plot, but one of Sanderson’s main strengths is his creativity in coming up with interesting ideas to build into the worlds he creates. As well, these books are written full of action and exciting description, with fun characters (we get new ones when David hooks up with the Reckoners stationed in Babelar). These books are like summer blockbusters, waiting to be filmed.
Along with a pretty interesting “power system”, where each epic has a number of super-human abilities (e.g. water manipulation, flight, creating illusions, invulnerability) as well as a very particular weakness which negates their abilities (e.g. being doused in Kool-aid, hearing some particular music, or being faced-down by someone who isn’t afraid). It’s fun to follow along with David as he and the other Reckoners try to understand how these strengths and weaknesses work, as they plot to bring the epics down.
David himself is a great protagonist. He believes in his mission to end the epics, yet he has a youthful enthusiasm for learning about them as well. A few other characters comment on how David has the ability to sway others to his way of thinking and to believe in him. Everything seems wondrous from his point of view, and he has a kind of self-deprecating humour and charm that make you really root for him. In the first book, he was driven very much by his desire for revenge, but with Steelheart defeated, David’s motivations have become more complicated, especially because of Megan (aka Firefight). She had been one of the Reckoners, but also a secret ally of Steelheart’s. David had fallen in love with her, and she had saved his life before escaping and disappearing herself. Now she shows up again in Babelar, apparently working with super-villain Regalia. So, David has a new, slightly-more-mature struggle with his beliefs that all epics are inherently evil. If that’s the case, how will he resolve his feelings for Megan?
Nevertheless, the first priority for this story is still fun. It’s well-written, with a number of good twists. It takes the super-hero genre and really plays with it in all kinds of interesting ways (and not just the ironic and cynical ways that others like The Watchmen or Birdman have been messing with the genre). For the audiobook, narrator Macleod Andrews does an amazing job with the voices of characters of all shapes and sizes. This series is a very enjoyable set of stories that would appeal to the super-hero fan who is looking for something a bit fresher than what Marvel and DC are putting out there.
If you’re interested in this series, don’t miss a novella called Mitosis that was also written by Sanderson in between the two novels. It tells the story of the Reckoners (including David) stopping another super-villain called Mitosis (whose ability was to make clones of himself), who tried to take over Newcago after Steelheart’s demise. It was also pretty fun and proves that this franchise has many potential stories to tell. (Firefight — 4.5 out of 5, Mitosis — 3.5 out of 5)
Fan art by Marina Vidal