In general I think superhero stories have been beaten to death lately. It’s hard to come up with a truly new concept within that genre, but I think Sanderson’s Reckoners trilogy managed to do it. He blends the dystopian genre with superheroes, creating a world ruled by supervillains called Epics. Sanderson incorporates a lot of classic features of the superhero story: that is, they gained their powers by an unexplained cosmic event (called Calamity); each Epic’s powers are unique to them, and each Epic has a weakness that doesn’t necessarily make sense, nor does it try to—it just is what it is. But I think the defining feature for this trilogy that made it original was the initial premise that Epics lose all sense of morality when they gain their powers, as well as the incredibly creative world-building.
The story is set in Newcago (formerly Chicago), and is controlled by the high Epic called Steelheart. He can turn any substance into steel, so the entire city is made of steel. It’s otherwise an authoritarian government like any other dystopian universe, and this sparks some thought-provoking political conversations between characters. The Reckoners are the resistance against the Epics, the small band of humans run by Jonathan Phaedrus (“Prof”). Main character David Charleston has idolized them ever since Steelheart killed his father when he was eight. In that same encounter, David saw Steelheart bleed: the only clue any living person has ever gained to his weakness, even though David doesn’t know what it means. For years, David has spent all his free time amassing data on each Epic, trying to determine what their weaknesses might be in hopes that he might be allowed to join the Reckoners to help bring them down. When David more or less forces the Reckoners’ hand, they do accept him, and he and Prof concoct a bold plan to try to take Steelheart down.
The story moves fast, and the characters are good, if occasionally over-the-top. There’s the drop-dead gorgeous ice princess, Megan (whom David of course becomes obsessed with), the wisecracker Cody who won’t shut up about how Scottish he is even though he has a Southern accent, the brilliant Prof, the former rocket scientist Tia (who was dating Prof, but this doesn’t really factor in too much), and David himself, who has the self-effacing narrative voice typical of a YA protagonist. He’s also (intentionally) absolutely terrible at metaphors, but he nevertheless uses them all the time. He is pretty funny.
In a way, this review is cheating, because I’ve already finished the entire Reckoners trilogy.
There are lots of plot twists throughout the series that I didn’t see coming. While some of them felt a little forced, and I wished there weren’t quite so many aspects that required a suspension of disbelief, overall I really enjoyed the whole series and plowed through it in a few weeks. Highly recommended.
My rating: *****