There is more going on in Steelheart than one might think. Initially marketed as a young adult novel, it is full of content that most mature individuals could enjoy and to me that is the mark of a strong novel. It helps that Brandon Sanderson uses his book to poke fun at the superhero genre and that his work is an enticing and thrilling ride to read - despite the. Yet, even with the pure fun and energy found in reading Steelheart there are enough deeper themes and thoughts for me to enjoy. In fact most of the hallmarks of Sanderson's writing can be found in this novel, though for all of that many of these hallmarks have significantly improved since his first novels.
If there's one thing I've come to believe from experience, it is that each person learns or experiences everything in life differently. Why, thank you Sherlock, I reeeeeallly needed your help to figure that one out! So, where was I going with this thought? Well, I wanted to ponder the idea that readers, as a result, read differently. That different things in a novel entertain them and allow them to learn. For myself, I find that I am very visually motivated. I am driven by the images that description and character building allow me to create as a picture within my mind as I read. Anyway, the point is that when I read a Brandon Sanderson novel I can picture it all in my head vividly. He has a way of using his words to detail and describe an environment and the people within that world. Though the Fractured States are a place of sorrow and the city of Newcago is one that is destroyed, with Sanderson at the helm it also reads as a world of wonder.
When I say there is more going on in Steelheart than one might see initially, I mean that there are deeper themes and ideas than given by the plot. There are typical Sanderson twists (of which I worked out most of them by the end more or less) and wonderfully, beautifully fantastic moments but they are all part of the plot and the storytelling of the narrative.
Sanderson loves to begin with a prologue for his stories and to some readers this is unsettling or disgruntling. However, the prologue which Sanderson opens with for this novel is one of the best parts of the story, sowing seeds of intrigue and developing the premise for the rest of the book. In the prologue the reader meets the narrator, David, an awkward young man with a habit of creating bizarre metaphors. David in the prologue narrates the day that Steelheart, an invulnerable superhuman, took over the city of Newcago, turning it into a city of steel and ensuring with the help of other superhumans that it is a city of eternal night. David has his own personal reasons for wanting to kill Steelheart and so he seeks out the aid of the Reckoners, a group of humans who aim to kill as many of these superhumans as possible.
It is explained throughout the novel that these metahumans, who call themselves Epics, gained their powers when some kind of red satellite called Calamity began to orbit the Earth. Of course, one gets the feeling that what Calamity is will be explained throughout the rest of the series, for this is one of the ways that Sanderson writes. He sets up a basic premise and gradually begins to explain the finer details. Another of these details is that every Epic has something that acts as a kind of 'kryptonite' for their powers. Something that causes them to lose their powers. These powers, when being used, further lead to the Epics having their selfish and impure desires doubled and tripled, which means that all Epics in the novel are evil or at least self-centred beings. It is as if Sanderson is creating the idea that in gaining extra-human powers that the darkness of humanity (the hamartia) is also doubling...
It is the unique way that these superpowers work that leads me to categorise this as science-fiction fantasy. For it has as much magical aspects as it has science fiction aspects. But that is not to say it is some bastardised novel. Indeed it is a wonderful hybrid that works as a compelling novel on the whole.
The themes of this novel focus around the abuses of power and what would really happen if we, as humans, were granted great power. Would we really do what is best for others? Or would we use our powers in a whimsical fashion, destroying rather than creating. Further, there is the theme of revenge and the need to have something other than vengeance to dedicate oneself to. The third theme that I can recall from reading this novel, and that stuck out to me, is the theme of action and inaction. At one point David is told that one cannot worry about what could happen as a result of action, but what will happen as a result of inaction.
Of course, in true Sanderson fashion, the novel ends as both a nice stand alone and as part of a continuing series. So, if you want to be sucked into a new trilogy then by all means: read this book. I will be hoping desperately for a quality film version, and waiting for the sequel, whenever it comes about, because I have found a new favourite series from a favourite author.