There is this old saying, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Ever since Jack Kirby, our superheroes have been flawed,emphasizing their humanity, and yet so often they have these godlike powers (yes, even Batman. His superpower is money, and if you don’t think that’s a superpower, clearly you have never been poor). Sanderson takes this to its logical end: what if the guys who were supposed to be our heroes ended up being our tyrant? And echoing Harvey Dent, we ask, “At what point does the hero die and become the villain?” And then where does that leave ordinary people? If it were you, what would you do?
Superheroes (called Epics in this book) tend to stand as cultural allegories. They are the best of us (even flawed) and do what we, the unempowered populace, would do if we were both that powerful and that good (Superman quits his paying job to become a blogger because of corruption in news media? Does he know there’s a recession on? Holy integrity, Batman. Irrelevant integrity maybe, but still…). Steelheart shifts the empowered actor from the superheroes (who end up rather flat as a whole, much the way normal people do in most superhero stories) to the everyday fella. Who ends up being not so ordinary after all, because isn’t special when a person decides to stand up for what’s right? Drama ensues. We’re left with the feeling that, in fact, we are our own superheroes, and the time to act in the face of injustice isn’t when we’re strong, when we’re “ready,” but right now, when the opportunity presents itself. And I love that young adults are getting that message.
I loved this book. It’s such an original premise, flawlessly delivered. There are even some discussion-worthy things happening with gender (Shanna, when you’ve read Steelheart, we need to talk about Jean Grey). It was captivating and, ok, not all that surprising in parts, but when predictable, perfectly, wonderfully predictable. Unlike Marvel, Sanderson doesn’t simultaneously seduce you into his world and then break your heart so you’ll read the next issue– oh wait. Yes, that’s kind of exactly what happens. But as a committed X-Men reader, I have to say– so worth it. Can’t wait for #2.
PS Yes, I know I mentioned this book already, but it’s so good, it deserves a longer review. My brother-in-law read it in two days over Christmas break. It’s exactly that good.
PS again– No swearing in this book. Er, that I remember anyway.