Review: Steelheart

Posted: September 6, 2013 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Brandon Sanderson, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book in three days.  (You have to understand that I work two jobs and have four kids, one of which is a two-month old, so reading a book in three days is kind of like reading it in one sitting for me.)  From the prologue, STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson (Amazon) hooked me in and never let me go.  This is the type of book that begged me to slip away from family and read for just a few minutes more; to let the dishes sit in the sink for just a bit longer so I could read another chapter; to stay up late, no matter that I had work early the next day. I just had to know what was coming next.

STEELHEART is set on Earth after an event called the Calamity has appeared in the sky and started turning some people into superheroes.  I say super heroes because of their powers, but in reality every one of them (they’re called Epics in the book) has in fact turned into a super villain instead. Steelheart is one of them, and one of the most powerful.  David was present when Steelheart claimed the city of Chicago as his own fiefdom and took over.  That was the day that Steelheart killed David’s father. That was the only time that Steelheart had ever been hurt in a fight and David is the only witness to it.  The tagline for the book is (as far as I can tell) “I’ve seen Steelheart bleed, and I’ll see it again.”

The setting is really fantastic. By setting the book in a present day earth Sanderson can really get down to what it is these Epics do and how they work.  He can highlight the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes in society as a result of these super beings.  I love the idea of a being as powerful as Steelheart claiming the city as his own.  No one can harm him so how can anyone stop him.

It’s also fun to get this view of the world through David, a regular human in a strange world.  The book is written in first person so we get a very personal view of that world and David’s thoughts.  A running theme throughout the book is David’s inability to make a good metaphor.  He’s about as bad at it as a cat with chopsticks trying to play dominoes (see what I did there?).  I wish I had written a few of them down for example here, but you get the point.  Reading the book is just alot of fun.

STEELHEART is a gripping book about what it means to be a superhero...and how it all could go horribly wrong. A page-turner that just doesn't let go.

The thing that had me turning the pages though was the pacing.  This book moves along smoothly from one scene to the next.  There’s plenty of action, but then even the interpersonal scenes are gripping.  As David helps plan to take Steelheart down you just race through the words wanting to see what happens next.  Also, I’m kind of a sucker for a cliffhanger at the end of chapters.  I love it. When you get to the end of a chapter and the last line is “And then I turned around and her sword was at my throat,” you just HAVE to flip the next page and see what happened next. (That’s just an example by the way that I made up.  As far as I can remember, which is pretty well, there are no swords at people’s throats at the end of chapters.) Some may dislike method for keeping the reader reading, but I’m not one of them.

Guys, STEELHEART is a good book.  This is a book that my wife and I were fighting over to read (I won, by the way).  If you’re a fan of Sanderson’s work, go buy it.  If you’re a fan of super heroes, go buy it.  If you’re a fan of good books that you don’t want to put down and keep you up late in the night turning pages to finish reading and then you’re sad when it’s over because you have to wait for the next book in the series and that’s going to take so long and I don’t think I can wait that long, then go buy it.  If you’re a fan of slow boring books with no characterization and little plot, then I’d advise against it.

  • Recommended Age: As soon as they can
  • Language: I think two words in the whole book and not major ones at that
  • Violence: A few action scenes, nothing too gory, but it is there
  • Sex: None


  • Jon says:

    I'm a big Sanderson fan and have read all his books, novellas, etc. I feel like he missed the mark on this one. This is intended to be a YA book, but really it feels like a JF book but with guns/more realistic violence. The characters felt more like caricatures. Giving a character a quirk is not the same thing as giving it depth. David didn't feel anything like an 18 year old who'd lived a hard life. He came across more as your average nerdish Jr High kid. Yeah, he watched his dad die and has a vendetta against a super-villain, but he doesn't actually emote any of that. This is one I'm glad I got from the library instead of the bookstore.

  • wicca Queen says:

    You always have some great reviews on here, and so far you've been right in my opinion. I was looking for some good romance, thrillers and what not. I am into the paranormal at the moment, reading. It's been awesome, to take a look at that one. I am not into historical fiction so maybe not this one but I will check back!

  • Matt I. says:

    What is a JF book? Junior Fiction? I assume it means preteen readers.

    Anyways, I agree with John that David doesn't have those Byronic qualities that Sanderson clearly intends with that tagline, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I thought both Prof and Megan were fun characters that I became fond of, particularly by the end of the book.

    I wouldn't say I loved it though. Surprisingly, this is Sanderson not doing his world building very well. I think we needed to spend some time with the average folk in the undercity for Sanderson to be able to capture the desperate feeling he wanted to create for Newcago. It could be argued that that's what happens with most YA fiction, but I dunno. The world definitely felt a little sterile.

    Also, as a guy who actually reads (or used to read) a lot of superhero stuff, this book was a bit aggravating it its distance from its inspirations. You can tell that Sanderson is not a guy who reads many superhero comics. I had to adjust my view of this story from 'Sanderson superhero riff' to 'Post-apocalyptic YA written by an epic fantasy author with some nods to the tropes of superheroes'.

    The similarities to Mistborn surprised me at first. The city covered in darkness ruled by a god-king. The street urchin who joins a band of rogues to overthrow him. Then I realized that was Star Wars/Campbell and stopped complaining.

    Man, I came into this planning to argue against Jon… I did think this was a very tightly plotted book, probably the quickest read of anything Sanderson has written. Tl;dr, I really wanted to talk about the book since I just finished it 🙂

    • Cayden says:

      I can’t help but agree with Jon, when I first read through the book it was the best thing ever, I just took it as a book, but when I look back on the story David didn’t feel like an 18-year-old more like a 20-year-old whos really a big nerd. but the book overall was great and I loved the ending. I feel like Sanderson a lot of diversity in this book, that’s why it may feel different, but it’s a good difference.

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