People commonly refer to Superman as the Man of Steel. But that’s just a snazzy nickname that looks good on his resume. Despite his strength and near-invulnerability, he isn’t actually a man of steel.
The nickname is more appropriate for Steelheart, the titular character in Brandon Sanderson’s latest novel. When the metalman makes his iconic debut, he is described as having “arms like steel girders, legs like mountains, and a neck like a tree stump.” Later, the author dutifully compiles a shopping list of his superpowers. He’s got incredible strength, he can shoot deadly blasts of energy from his hands, he can fly and he can command the wind. In addition, he’s impervious to bullets, fire, radiation, suffocation, and explosions. His greatest power—and the one that defines him the most—is the ability to transform anything around him into steel.
It’s this transformative power that sets the agenda for the entire novel. Within the first dozen pages Steelheart turns his hometown into a blob of steel. Ten years later, the history books referred to it as the Great Transfersion, an awesome display of power by which Steelheart transformed most of Chicago (and a big chunk of Lake Michigan) into “a glassy expanse of black metal.”
These days, Steelheart rules “Newcago” like a petulant emperor (“Give me your loyalty or die,” he says). He’s the most powerful Epic in the newly formed Fractured States of America, and no one can figure out a way to end his decade-long reign of terror.
But a shadowy group of vigilantes called the Reckoners are doing their best to put a dent in Steeltown. One of them, an 18-year-old young man named David Charleston, represents the nexus that links the Epics and the Reckoners. As a little kid, he witnessed Steelheart murder his father during the Great Transfersion. And, as a result, there’s nothing in his life more important than revenge.
Without a doubt, Steelheart was the most anticipated superhero novel of 2013. And we’re happy to finally have it on our shelf. The world building is solid. The characters display an easy camaraderie and are nuanced in a Joss Whedon sort of way. And best of all, the villain is super-crazy insane. Also: props to Sanderson for giving us a bunch of twists and curveballs at the end of the book. We saw them coming a mile away, but we appreciate the effort nonetheless. The author even takes the time to reflect upon the tenue of superheroes. “There are things more powerful than Epics,” he writes. “There is life. There is love. And there is nature itself.” It might sound corny—and it’s not particularly profound in any way—but the sentiment extends a plainspoken folksy charm that’s hard to criticize.
[Steelheart / By Brandon Sanderson / First Printing: September 2013 / ISBN: 9780385743563]