5 out of 5 stars.
It is really hard to express just how much I loved these books. They are a YA version of Disney’s The Incredibles or The Watchmen. They explore some of the more serious and practical implications of having super-powered individuals running around. In the case of these works, some people have gained awesome powers, but pretty much every affected individual has been corrupted. There are no superheroes, just super villains. And they are terrorizing EVERYONE. Even each other.
One of the details I really admired is the classification system used to rate and analyze superpowers by the main character. David is insanely geeky about the Epics (super-powered individuals) ever since one killed his father. He has studied their powers, risked his life to spy on them and now knows many of their weaknesses. I loved the level of detail Sanderson goes into while making his world. Epics usually have unique powers, but their are threads of commonality and powers that can be used to rate their powers and even help predict weaknesses. I guess it is the librarian in me that loves a good organization system, but Brandon Sanderson has put some serious thought into how superpowers would work, what weaknesses they could impart, and how to rate power and skill. I love this detail. It makes the resulting world wonderfully real.
The Epic names are sometimes ridiculous, (think early comic book era campiness), but they are always dangerous and bloodthirsty. It is at once a throwback to the origins of superheroes and comic books, while reminding us of the real violence and oppression that could come if Superman decided to go evil. This edgy humour and character is there throughout both books. There are awesome duels with powers, cool tech gadgets and even some quippy dialogue, contrasted with the utter devastation that can come with someone insane and evil happening to have ultimate God-like power. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It turns out later that using the powers themselves corrupts the Epics, so it may not be the complete moral failing of individuals, but a side-effect of the powers themselves. This leads the characters to a fairly serious consideration of ethics: whether it is ethical to kill one insane dangerous person who is not at fault to preserve the lives of thousands or even millions.
David is a great protagonist. A nerdy introvert who, since he has spent the last decade researching, has no idea how to talk to girls or construct understandable similes and metaphors (some are quite funny). He is determined to kill Steelheart, but needs some help. Luckily, there is a small but effective band of rebels that travel from Epic-dominated city to city, killing as many Epics as they can. They may be willing to help, but Steelheart is insanely powerful and the only one who has ever seen him bleed and lived (David) still has no idea exactly what Steelheart’s one weakness is.
These books read a lot like movies. They have the tight, snappy dialogue you would expect from a masterful screenwriter, and non-stop action. It is so hard to put down this series and I heartily recommend it to everyone. Absolutely everyone. Brandon Sanderson is wonderful.