Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Firefight (Reckoners #2) by Brandon Sanderson

Sometimes you can pick up a book in any series and it doesn't matter if you read it in order. This is not one of those books. Read book one, Steelheart, because the character arc progresses in each and the world building will be easier to visualize. Epics have taken over the world. They are humans corrupted by superpowers gained when the star, Calamity, appeared in the sky. In Steelheart, David Charleston's dad is convinced that the Epic Steelheart is good and can be a hero and save the city of Newcargo from corruption. When David's dad saves Steelheart's life, he exposes the Epic's weakness. Steelheart responds by killing David's father. David spends ten years researching how to kill Steelheart and joins a team, The Reckoners, that decides to take the Epic down. No one has ever killed an Epic until David kills Steelheart to avenge his father's death. That's the backstory to get you up to speed.

Book two begins with David trying to find a new purpose in his life. He's a hero to the people who call him, "Steelslayer." He has always seen the Epics as enemies and has never questioned killing them. In a series of incidents, he now wonders if it is possible for Epics to be good. Can they be changed? It doesn't help that he's fallen for one called, Megan. Like his father, David believes that the Prof, can be a good Epic. The Prof is the leader of the Reckoners who gifts his superpowers to other unmagical team members such as David. The only reason David killed Steelheart was because Prof gave him superpowers. David begins to question his early drive to kill all Epics and focuses on trying to help them control their destructive powers that make them oppressive, killing tyrants.

The Reckoners are being attacked in Newcargo by Epics sent by High Epic Regalia in Babylar or Babylon Restored, an old burough in Manhattan. Tia, David, and Prof decide to investigate Regalia and link up with another Reckoners' cell that has been doing research and surveillance on Regalia. They are concerned when they see that Regalia is in cohorts with Obliteration, an unstable Epic, that destroyed an entire city using his fire powers. An unpredictable plot ensues with David finding answers to his questions that he didn't expect.

Brandon Sanderson deals with conflict in unexpected ways that make his books page-turners. I just finished a different book where the author has things going wrong that are too obvious. Even though the tension is there the problems are solved too easily. Sanderson takes plot elements that look easy to solve but comes up with some strange twist. For instance, David is trapped in a submarine and tries to shoot his way out of the glass. Obvious solution, right? Well it doesn't work so he comes up with a completely unpredictable solution. I won't spoil the fun and tell you. The plot is stuffed with this technique for dealing with conflict that make his books such a blast to read. Sanderson digs deep and comes up with creative conflict resolutions.

Sanderson also plays with familiar tropes and puts his own twist on them. Think of how many stories or movies you've gone to that have the hero who has superpowers and saves the world. Many of those stories has an everyman character or ordinary person that the reader relates to. In Tolkien's books it is Samwise Gamgee. In Harry Potter, it is Neville Longbottom. These are the characters that average people can put themselves in the place of and therefore cheer them on. David Charleston is an everyman hero and that is one reason he is so appealing to me. He doesn't have any superpowers and when they are bestowed on him, he doesn't accept them. He uses his wits to deal with situations and is usually saved by others.

David's quest is dealing with the morality of what he does for a living. While in the first book he was coming to terms with killing people, he has accepted that he is an assassin. "But at my core, I was an assassin. Yes, I killed in the name of justice, bringing down only those who deserved it, but at the end of the day, I was an assassin. I'd shoot someone in the back. Whatever it took." Whereas before he just killed out of vengence because the Epics were "bad people," he now questions whether they can be changed. This reminds me a bit of the movie, "American Sniper," where the sniper justified his killings because the others were the enemy. How a person deals with the psychological toll of killing others is a varied and fascinating subject. "Ender's Game" is another book that explores this in depth. David seems to want more in life than just killing Epics. He is constantly changing which makes him a dynamic character that grows in each book.

The author's tone for the book continues with David's bull-headed, self-deprecating humor. He doesn't care if he makes a fool of himself and he continues to mess around with corny similes and metaphors. Here's one of the weirder ones: "...floated in the air, lit by fruit that dangled from the ceiling like snot from the nose of a toddler who had been snorting glowsticks." Here's a funny one: "I'll be as a buttered snail sneaking through a Frenchman's kitchen." Don't miss this series, it will call to you like the "ding on a microwave as it finished nuking a pizza pocket." Like I said, he's got some doozers.

4 Smileys

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