Let me preface this review by saying that books in this genre aren’t usually what I’m drawn to, but the premise of the book just seemed too interesting to pass up.
One of my writing heroes and favorite authors Patrick Rothfuss called Brandon Sanderson one of the greatest living writers of science fiction (I’m paraphrasing) and I absolutely agree with him. There were so many times when this series could have taken a turn or the author could have simply gone with a predictable storyline, but he kept surprising me through all three books.
I was hooked from the first page of Steelheart, the first book in the series. Steelheart is set in Newcago, the city that was once called Chicago. Calamity was the name given to the red, glowing light in the sky that arrived 12 years ago. It emitted some sort of radiation and normal people started developing varying types of superpowers and were dubbed Epics. Once the Epics came, their power corrupted them and they turned into a new breed of super criminals; their power and seeming invulnerability rendered law enforcement and governments useless against them. The strongest of the Epics took power and enslaved those who survived the initial wave of killing and war.
Newcago is controlled by the Epic Steelheart and his many Epics that serve under him. Most of the city has been turned to steel and is enveloped in darkness due to another Epic under Steelheart’s command, Nightwielder. Compared to most of what was once the United States, Newcago is well ran and the people have access to food, water, and are allowed to have normal jobs and retain some of the normalcy of the society that was lost under Epic rule.
The main character, David Charleston, was orphaned when his father was killed during a fight in a bank between Steelheart and another Epic called Deathpoint, who could skeletonize people by simply pointing at them. Believing Steelheart was a hero, David’s father grabbed a gun and shot Deathpoint. The bullet also grazed Steelheart’s cheek and made him bleed, infuriating Steelheart, causing him to kill David’s father. Steelheart then destroyed the bank and killed everyone in it, but David was able to survive by crawling into a vault and was pulled from the debris days later. Steelheart, afraid that news of his vulnerability would spread, came back and with the help of the Epic Faultline, sank all remaining remnants of the bank into the ground.
The story picks up when David is 18, having spent the last ten years learning everything he can about the Epics, studying their powers and weaknesses, and categorizing them based on their level of power. David learns of a group of normal people called The Reckoners, who have incredibly advanced technology derived from the powers of Epics and are the only people brave enough to face off against them. He comes in contact with the group when he interferes with one of their missions, and we are introduced to their founder, Jonathan Phaedrus (nicknamed Prof because of his job as a professor prior to Calamity) and the other members, Tia, Abraham, Cody, and Megan. They initially are wary of David, believing he could be a spy sent by the Epics, until he shares with them the information he has gathered about the Epics and tells them that he has seen Steelheart bleed. After assuring them that he and his information could be an asset, they allow David to join them.
David’s main goal is to kill Steelheart and avenge the death of his father, and he believes that the only way he can accomplish this is with the help of the Reckoners. Prof, David, and the team devise a plan to lure Steelheart into a battle in an old football stadium by making him believe there is a new Epic challenging his power. Using their technology, they create the fake Epic Limelight, and make his threat to Steelheart seem credible by staging attacks on Newcago and accrediting them to Limelight.
Although David has a wealth of information and knowledge of Steelheart, they are still not sure what it was exactly that made him vulnerable to David’s father’s bullet. So, they work all of the possible theories into their plan: the gun David’s father used, aspects of the vault in the bank, the belief that only someone who believes Epics can be good can hurt them, and many others. They rig the stadium with traps and exit plans, should the battle not go in their favor, and the final battle ensues.
It’s hard to go on to review Firefight and Calamity, the other books in the series, without spoiling the ending of Steelheart, so I’ll try to tell you what they are about in a broader sense. There are huge plot twists in the end of Steelheart that change the dynamic of The Reckoners permanently. David’s belief that all Epics are evil and corrupted by their power is shaken, and he is faced with having to change the way he sees all Epics. In the remaining books, David becomes closer to the group and learns more about who they were before Calamity and the arrival of Epics. He also becomes enamored with fellow Reckoner Megan, and that becomes a main storyline throughout the series.
As David learns more about each member of the group, he is faced with increasingly difficult choices and tasks. He learns more about Calamity, what or possibly who it is, and why people were given superpowers.
In Firefight, David and some of the Reckoners leave Newcago and head to Balibar, the city once known as Manhattan after learning it is in imminent danger. What was once New York City has been flooded and only the tops of the highest skyscrapers remain accessible. Vastly different from Newcago, Babilar is ruled by Regalia, who is able to control water and project herself on any water surface. We are also introduced to members of the Babilar Reckoners, Val, Exel, and Mizzy. The team learns that Regalia has teamed up with the Epic Obliteration, who has no interest in power, only destruction. He is famously known for destroying Houston, San Diego, and Albuquerque. The Reckoners begin to engage with the people and Epics of Babilar, and become increasingly desperate to find Obliteration and Regalia’s weaknesses. Throughout Firefight, David becomes less sure of his status among the Reckoners, and wonders if his addition to the team is helping or hurting their purpose. Despite that, David is still loyal to Prof and the team as they are forced to fight Regalia and Obliteration to try and save Babilar from total destruction.
Again, I am attempting to be as broad as possible as to not spoil any aspects of the books for potential readers. After the intense battle in Babilar, the Reckoners are forced to regroup after losing members of the team. After meeting a man named Knighthawk, an old associate of Prof’s and the man behind most of the technology derived from Epic powers that the Reckoners use, they are able to obtain more supplies and information that leads them to the city of Ildithia, what was once known as Atlanta. Ildithia is made of salt and constantly changing, and is known for it’s ability to produce abundant crops thanks to the weather patterns controlled by the Epic Stormwind. They are able to set up a base and try to form a plan to save the city. They also come into an alliance with the Epic Larcener, who has the ability to steal powers from other Epics, making him extremely powerful and useful. In Ildithia, the Reckoners are confronted with their most difficult battle yet, and they must exhaust every asset they have to fight it. The series ends with some of the most brilliantly written plot twists and turns I’ve ever read and is beautifully concluded in the final chapters.
Each book is unable to put down and they flawlessly blend together. Sanderson’s unique ability to seamlessly go from book to book without having to continuously reexplain aspects of the story makes this easily one of the best trilogies I’ve ever read, and as many would agree, ever written. I couldn’t have been happier with the way he chose to end the series. Each character in the story is given a rich, nuanced and strategic arc that adds to the plot, giving them all unique and logical reasons for being the people they are and why they choose to do what they do. Each character evolves as the story goes on, especially, Prof, David, and Megan. Megan and Prof’s journeys are perhaps the most interesting. David’s evolution is more predictable, but still no less interesting.
The Reckoners series can be enjoyed by fans of any genre, because it really does have aspects that appeal to them all. To say that I recommend the series is an understatement. One thing I have to mention before I end this long winded review, is Sanderson’s use of alternate curse words. They were a hilarious and incredibly clever addition to the story and I even find myself using them from time to time.
I sincerely hope my review encourages someone to read these books because they are absolutely incredible. I also must note that given the unique names of the characters, cities, and the like, some things may end up being misspelled due to my fight with the autocorrect function. Hopefully that doesn’t take away from the review itself, but sorry if it made things confusing.