TEEN REVIEW | by Ross Sonnenblick
There are good first lines, there are great first lines, and then there is the master-class first line that begins Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart—“I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.” Immediately, I was hooked.
The setting is Chicago, deemed “Newcago” after an unexplainable incident gives a small portion of society superpowers. These “Epics” erase the sunlight, take over the city, and rule with iron fists. Steelheart is the most powerful and invulnerable Epic.
Opposing them is David Charleston, an 18-year-old orphan who is obsessed with bringing down Steelheart. David’s quest drives the book’s plot, which is filled with incessant danger, riveting suspense, cunning schemes and schemers, and the obligatory, amusing struggle for love.
In Steelheart, every single person, Epic or not, is portrayed with a vulnerability. The mighty gunman, Abraham, is a soft-spoken idealist. David is an expert on classifying Epics, but he is insecure and desperately infatuated with the freedom fighter, Megan. And Steelheart? The book’s first line alludes to David’s obsession to uncover and exploit Steelheart’s vulnerability.
Sanderson depicts this story in a cynical, wry tone that helps all of the extraordinary events to read, well, ordinary. Some examples: “She nodded, businesslike, which wasn’t exactly the reaction I’d have hoped for from a pretty girl whose life I’d saved.” And: “If my landlady came snooping up here, she’d find just what she expected. A teenager just into his majority blowing his earnings on an easy life for a year before responsibility hits him.”
At its core, the novel isn’t about the gunfights (although there are several juicy ones) or guts and glory, but about human nature. The Epics don’t need to rob banks; money is worthless to them. They don’t need to kill, and they don’t need to enforce laws. Yet, they do. The novel also poses tough questions: What is the nature of power? Can people be above the law? Are humans inherently good or evil?
David possesses no superpower, but that does not mean he is an ordinary teenager. He’s seen Steelheart bleed, and “will see him bleed again.” This novel intrigued me to no end, and I think it will ensnare you as well.
Ross Sonnenblick is 16 years old and a high school junior.
PARENT REVIEW | by Jordan Sonnenblick
I’ve always been a sucker for superhero fiction, so when I stumbled across Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, a dystopian teen novel that begins two years after individuals have suddenly developed metahuman powers for evil, I knew I had to grab a copy and share it with my teenage son. I expected a standard action story—which would have been enough for me. What I got was a whole lot more satisfying.
Steelheart succeeds on several levels. If you’re a teenage (or 44-year-old) boy looking for fast-paced, violent carnage and mayhem, this book delivers. However, you also get a haunting coming-of-age tale framed in a David-and-Goliath allegory about the destructive and corrupting nature of absolute power. The main character, David, sets out to avenge the death of his father at the hands of the incredibly powerful and villainous Steelheart, who has taken over Chicago. By the end of the story, David has learned about grief, acceptance, and the difference between vengeance and justice. Interwoven in this plot is also an unusual first-love story and a meditation on governance and social responsibility.
Steelheart is a wild ride that will thrill you from start to finish. If you want a book that you and your teen can enjoy and discuss together, then Steelheart is a super (heh, heh) choice. Plus, there is a sequel in the works. Score!
Jordan Sonnenblick, author of several young adult novels including his most recent, Are You Experienced, lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two children. Learn more about the author at www.jordansonnenblick.com.