I read Brandon Sanderson's "Steelheart" twice, once in galley form and the second in audiobook form. I think listening to the audiobook bumped up the rating for me, so this is a solid four star read. MacLeod Andrews was an amazing narrator, and perfect for David's voice throughout the narrative. Couldn't have asked for a better performance.
I expected an epic journey out of "Steelheart" and for the most part, I got it. But unfortunately it was a bit of a slog getting there in places. The prologue has quite a bit of intrigue - a world where superheroes are the enemy. In this case, they take the form of Epics - beings with superpowers ruling over the human world in a dystopian environment full of fear and control. David is only eight years old during a fateful day in the bank, when Steelheart makes an appearance against another powerful being who goes on a killing spree inside the bank. But Steelheart is no good guy. It's clear that he's there for his own motives as David and his father get caught in the crossfire, and leads to tragic results.
But not before David witnesses events that expose Steelheart's weakness.
"I've seen Steelheart bleed. And I will see him bleed again."
Epic lines, no?
Fast forward ten years later to where David attempts to join a group known to kill Epics, called the Reckoners. David gives them quite the surprise as he ambushes one of their operations, then reveals he's been spending the last several years collecting information on each of the Epic weaknesses he's been able to gather. The group, including the rather dubious Megan and the just, but stern leader "Prof," isn't ready to trust David at first, but gradually, as they realize they have an opportunity to take down Steelheart once and for all - they warm up to him and include David in their operations for one grand stand. I really liked watching the characters interact and came to care about them over the course of the story and their attempts to fool and draw Steelheart out for battle. It doesn't come without costs, and there's plenty of action, intrigue, betrayal, and humor to go around. And as with Sanderson's other narratives - a beautiful eye to the worldbuilding. I liked the variety presented in that quite a bit.
But you want to know what kept me from rating this book higher? The overabundance of gun/weaponry details and planning strategies that could've been streamlined a little better. Some of it I could understand, but more often than not - it really dragged the pacing of the story in turns. I felt the weight of that as I went through the narrative, and I couldn't help but think "Dude, this is too much." (The use of the word "sparks" might've been a little much as well, but while that might bug some people with the substitute swear in this particular world, it didn't bother me except for its frequency.)
I was more intrigued by the interactions of the characters and their push towards confronting Steelheart, and while there were certain turns of the story I saw coming, I was actually more forgiving of those elements. I could understand this was a rebel group and appreciated the knowledge of what they used in their respective battles - but I think the narrative wouldn't have lost anything if some of that had been cut down. The narrative might've even moved quite a bit faster in pacing since it did notably get sluggish in the middle as it pushed towards the group's confrontation (among other surprising reveals).
Nonetheless, this story held my attention through until the end, in both versions of the story but especially in the audio narrated version. I'd recommend it and certainly will be reading more into the respective series to come, considering there are a few story seeds that it throws for the series to continue forward. Ultimately - I think Sanderson did well with the YA narrative, and certainly was worth the time delving into.
Overall score: 4/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Delacorte Press.