Firefight (A Reckoners Novel) by Brandon Sanderson – Book Review
Firefight (A Reckoners Novel) – Book Review
Written by: Brandon Sanderson
Published by: Delacorte Press
Second in the Reckoners Trilogy: Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life simpler. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And no one in Newcago can give him answers.
LIKE A PACK OF WOLVES IN A GIANT WOODEN SHEEP.
The conceit that gives rise to Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series – of which is the second novel – is that of Calamity, an astronomical manifestation that gifted super powers upon a few, apparently random members of the population. Those it affected became not superheroes but supervillains: uninhibited; tempestuous; almost casually destructive. The most formidable of this new caste, the so-called High Epics, each possess not only a unique talent by which to cause mayhem, but also an idiosyncratic defensive faculty that renders them nigh invulnerable. The only way to bring down a High Epic is somehow to learn of and exploit his or her one, carefully-guarded weakness. Enter the Reckoners – a guerrilla force of regular humans – and David Charleston, aka Steelslayer, so named because he killed the High Epic Steelheart in the eponymous first book of Sanderson’s dystopian future fantasy. In this, the follow-up, David and his team must travel to Babylon Restored (formerly Manhattan), therein to eliminate not only the despotic High Epic Regalia but also Megan: a woman who double-crossed the Reckoners and with whom David has fallen in love.
Firefight may be picked up and read without any prior knowledge of the Reckoners world. Indeed, Sanderson brings us up to speed in a bit of a flurry: a three chapter action sequence that calls to mind a comic strip montage, or perhaps more pertinently the pre-title inductions so prevalent nowadays in superhero (and of course James Bond) films. It’s all quite helter-skelter and lacking in substance, but thankfully there’s better to come. Once he slows down and starts building into his story, Sanderson crafts not only an insistent, darkly imagined scenario but also an enthralling character drama in the best traditions of Marvel Comics and their adaptations. There is still action aplenty, but with depth, a grander purpose, and a narrative escalation that sees events spiralling ever faster into a genuine page-turner. If this were a movie, it would be one of the rare few where the calamitous powers that be didn’t rip its substance out in their ever-grasping hunger for special effects.
The concept of intrinsically malignant superpowers – even in those few Epics who, like David’s mentor, Prof, retain enough of their humanity to fight the good fight – is one for which Sanderson is due great credit, bringing as it does all the mystique of the superhero genre without any of the superficiality or the predictability of mere wish-fulfillment. Similarly inspired is the decision to imbue the story’s first-person protagonist, nineteen-year-old David, with an obsessive, almost fannish love-hate appreciation of the Epics he’s pitted himself against. David has honed his skills to become something of an action hero (sans powers), and is brainier than his straightforward thinking might suggest, yet carries with him the awkward baggage of over-specialization. When not actively hunting Epics, his goofiness verges on ineptitude, which is rather like having an every man alter-ego but no corresponding secret identity. A characteristic appreciation of, yet inability to formulate, good similes, is the most blatant example of Sanderson’s de-empowering his main player, but there are many others. The disparity between David’s failings and the High Epics’ seeming omnipotence makes for all the more compelling a struggle.
Firefight is a visual, almost cinematic novel. Though less sweepingly grand in scope, emotionally it fits the mould of The Empire Strikes Back in what presumably will be a trilogy of Reckoners books. It remains to be seen whether David can truly grow into the name Steelslayer, a la Luke Skywalker, but whatever the outcome, the concluding chapter (Calamity, 2016) should be a spectacle well worth waiting for.
Reviewed by Jacob Edwards
January 6, 2015