Brandon Sanderson is fantastic at asking a simple “what if?” and crafting a compelling story out of it.
(This also makes it easy to describe his books, lucky for us readers).
What if a boy was only attending magic school because his mom was the cleaning lady? (The Rithmatist)
What if the Dark Lord had won and plunged the land into shadow? (Mistborn: The Final Empire)
What if people spontaneously developed super powers and all turned into villains instead of heroes? Steelheart!
In true Sanderson style, the world building is top-notch, without being in-your-face. So many little cool tidbits are only hinted at, creating the illusion of a complex and believable setting.
However—and it pains me to say this about one of my favourite authors—this wasn’t his best effort. By far.
The writing was clunky at times, and the character felt off throughout. I wasn’t really a fan of the humour. It felt forced, especially since I’ve just been reading laugh-out-loud novels by Jim Butcher and Joe Abercrombie.
Dara put it best when she said that “the banter between the Reckoners feels forced to me. “Look at us! We joke with each other so we must be close!” is how it feels to me. Doesn’t feel natural.”
Another part that really, really, really bugged me is the revelation that Epic powers slowly make you lose control, and this is the reason why everyone turns into a villain.
WHY? This book could have been such a great platform for exploring what happens when ordinary people come into extraordinary power. “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” anyone?
There’s a school of thought that says that all humans are in their nature evil and savage, and it is society that reigns us back. I don’t believe in this, and I don’t think Brandon does either, but Steelheart could have been the novel to look at the concept again.
Having the Epics turn slowly mad is such a cop-out. It’s Sanderson covering his ass by attributing the evilness to some outside, external force (and therefore something you can’t control), instead of leaving it at that: humans are at their core, evil.
That’s like Lord of the Flies ending with “oh, just kidding, the island has a mystical force which turns all the kids into savages. Don’t worry, real people wouldn’t act this way, pshh.”
tl;dr: This book has the usual Sanderson awesomeness when it comes to plotting, twists, and world building, but falls short on character and theme.