Fiction Reviews


Brandon Sanderson, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, 420pp, ISBN 978-0-575-10449-5


This is the second in the Reckoners series, which started with Steelheart and continues with Firefight, set a few months later, and again the author tells a good story. Between these two is the novelette Mitosis; for those yet to read the first book the author warns that the novelette contains many spoilers. The series is set in contemporary times, maybe just a few years hence, and it will end with a third novel, Calamity.

We learnt in Steelheart that, without warning, Calamity appeared in the skies. No one seemed to be sure what Calamity is; some said that it is a comet which got caught by the earth’s gravitation field and now orbits it, others think that it is a satellite launched by a major power for some unknown reason. Whatever it is, it has had a strange effect. About a year later a few people started to gain unusual powers; sometimes these powers were quite small, other times they were quite strong, and some have more than one power. The public have termed such people Epics and, like the superheroes of comics, they like to give themselves special names. Curveball, for example, had the sole power that any gun in his hands never ran out of ammunition. On the other hand, Steelheart could turn things into steel, could harness and direct energy with his hands, could fly, and was invulnerable. Unlike the comic book heroes, there is a downside to being an Epic; the use of their powers robs them of any compassion or care for those around them and they think nothing of killing or destroying at the slightest whim. They say that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and the Epics are the living proof of the saying.

Faced with super-powerful beings, the forces of law and order soon found themselves defeated and much of the world descended into anarchy. In Chicago Steelheart became the dominant figure and ran the city (which he had mostly turned into steel) as his fiefdom; no one could stand against his powers. However, a small band of people had decided to strike back. They called themselves Reckoners and they know one thing - every Epic has a weakness. They also have a few items of interesting technology which, carefully used, can increase their chances of success. We learnt that even an Epic as powerful as Steelheart could be killed - though it was far from easy.

However, there is no need to have read Steelheart to enjoy Firefight as you easily learn all you need to know in the first few chapters. Each novel stands in its own right, being a battle to bring down a major Epic or Epics.

As this story opens, the Reckoners have killed more Epics and are in the process of dealing with Sourcefield, who has control of electricity and electrical fields, and once again it is David Charleston, now sometimes known as Steelslayer, who strikes the mortal blow. Sourcefield is the latest of several powerful Epics who have arrived from what was New York with the intent of destroying the Reckoners and they have come to realise that they are under determined attack from that direction.

The Reckoners are lead by Jonathan Phaedrus, usually known as the Prof, and we now know that he is also an Epic. However, he has found that he can avoid going evil if he refuses to use his considerable powers or else gifts them in small quantities to his fellow Reckoners - and borrowing a little of the Prof’s protective field can prove very handy on the battlefield! The Prof decides that they must take the battle to Babylon Restored, as Manhattan is now known, and face Regalia, the Epic running the place.

Regalia, an old friend of the Prof’s, has mastery over water and they arrive to find the city flooded to a great depth and the people living on rooftops. At night the city is a kaleidoscope of colours as all spray paints now glow in the dark. The buildings have become gardens and are filled with strange new plants which also glow in the dark and produce the nutritious fruit that sustains the population. Both the glow and the plants are the product of Dawnslight, one of the few Epics whose powers are beneficial.

The city is home to several other Epics, in particular to Obliteration, whose abilities include storing and directing thermal energy and he has already destroyed several cities including Houston and Albuquerque in huge explosions. Furthermore, it becomes clear that he and Regalia are intending to destroy New York and all that live in it.

And so we follow the battle between the two sides. Regalia has been planning for a long time and knows the Prof only too well, she always seems to be one step ahead, and the Reckoners have a hard time of things. One question they have to ask themselves is whether they are following their own plans or are predictably responding to events already set in motion. To complicate matters, Megan, who used to be a Reckoner in Chicago, appears on the scene.

Megan is also the Epic known as Firefight and her powers include that of reincarnation, so killing her never lasts for long. She claims to use her powers sparingly and that she is still good but the Prof regards her as a powerful and dangerous traitor, on the other hand David disagrees and believes that she is on their side. Mind you, David is in love with her so his judgement may be clouded. Her involvement will tip the balance one way or the other.

Once again the author has had a lot of fun creating Epics with believable powers and commensurate weaknesses and then built a good, well thought through story around them. The pace never really slackens and, although this is another fairly thick book (over 400 pages), it remains interesting throughout.

It was an enjoyable read and I look forward to the final episode. Like Indiana Jones, it might not be intellectually challenging but it is a fun adventure.

Peter Tyers

Also see Ian's review of Firefight.

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