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Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

A new Brandon Sanderson novella is never a bad thing and Snapshot is a lot of fun, if a bit lightweight compared to some of his other efforts. Its high concept is a bit over reliant on exposition, compared to the relative elegance with which he creates entire worlds in stories like Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell or Sixth of Dusk, but it’s a fun bit of popcorn reading nonetheless.

Snapshot follows two detectives, Davis and Chaz, as they investigate inside a titular ‘Snapshot’, an entire recreation of a day in a city, used to investigate crimes in real time. This is set in the Reckoners universe, or multiverse, or whatever’s going on with that setting. During a routine investigation, Davis and Chaz stumble upon a crime they weren’t meant to know about and take it upon themselves to investigate.

The actual story itself, in terms of character and motivation, is fairly thin. What saves the experience is a playfulness with reality and perception, as well as Sanderson’s signature world building. The people within the Snapshot are, disturbingly, implied to be sentient and that every time the Snapshot is shut down they are essentially murdering thousands of conscious minds. Sanderson doesn’t shy away from this inherent darkness, with the most interesting element of the plot being a badge which, when shown to someone in the Snapshot, makes them aware that they are, essentially, not real. The differing reactions are very interesting; some laugh, some cry, some kill themselves and some kill others. Still, the actual story wrapping up the interesting ideas isn’t particularly memorable. It’s got a couple of twists, but without much of a reason to care about the characters they’re robbed of impact.

Snapshot is a decent enough read, but definitely doesn’t pack the punch of some of his other short fiction. If you fancy a sci-fi tinged detective story you could do worse, but there’s better out there too.

 

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Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

My ridiculous Sanderson binge has come to an end, as had the Reckoners series. Of course, Brandon Sanderson being Brandon Sanderson he’s announced a new three book spin-off picking up some of the loose ends. Calamity, as with the two proceeding books, is a lot of fun and comes to a satisfyingly huge and (ahem) epic conclusion.

Calamity picks up not long after Firefight left off. After Prof used his powers to absorb Obliteration’s bomb in Babilar, he has turned and has become one of the most dangerous High Epics in the country. David Charleston now knows the secret of Epic’s weakness and aims to bring Prof back from his madness and take the battle to Calamity itself. The battleground is Idilthia, once the city of Atlanta and turned to salt. It creeps across the land and has been ruled by Larcener, an Epic who can drain powers from others and it is here that Prof first seeks to conquer.

Calamity fits into the pattern established in this series, with each taking place in a transformed American city and focusing on taking down the primary Epic. Although there was wider worldbuilding, Steelheart and Firefight were quite focused, but with so many loose ends to tie up Calamity has to stretch itself a bit thinner. The quick pace is a strength of this series, but Calamity feels a bit rushed, lurching towards it’s conclusion. The satisfying sense of watching a plan come together isn’t really present, but the action scenes are as strong as ever. That said, Sanderson makes up for it with wider world building. Somewhat hilariously, Sanderson appears to be building a second multiverse. Most authors can’t pull off one, but here’s Sanderson building up a second. The sense of scale is extremely exciting, but Calamity does suffer somewhat by biting off slightly more than it can chew.

All said though, the core of humour and action that define this series is still there. The action scenes are really exciting and, at times, surprisingly grisly. Considering that this is a YA book, Calamity contains the most stomach churningly violent scene in any of his books. Sanderson approached the Reckoners in a different way to his Cosmere books, with a more chatty, informal tone which is a lot of fun to read.

David is still a likable protagonist and it’s nice seeing him and Megan together, if only to end the relationship drama. Both characters are only enhanced by their pairing. Sadly, my biggest disappointment here is the lack of development of Prof. Seeing him turn at the end of Firefight was heartbreaking, but we don’t quite see enough of him for this to have as much impact as it should. He’s usually raging and attacking everyone, with the connection he holds to the Reckoners not explored quite as much as it should.

Calamity is a satisfying conclusion to the Reckoners series. It isn’t quite as successful by it’s own right as Steelheart and Firefight, but I still enjoyed it a lot. It leaves a few loose ends hanging which will hopefully be picked up in the Apocalypse Guard, Sanderson’s upcoming spin-off.

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Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Middle books in trilogies are generally tough, with Brandon Sanderson himself falling into the trap somewhat in the rather plodding middle book in the Mistborn trilogy, The Well of Ascension. Sanderson has clearly learnt however, with Firefight standing as a great follow-up to the supremely enjoyable Steelheart and left me chomping at the bit for the final book in the Reckoner Trilogy, Calamity.

Firefight picks up a few months after David Charleston, Reckoner, took down Steelheart, the tyrannical ruler of Newcago. Several Epics have come after David, now known as Steelslayer with David and the Reckoners putting them all down. The Reckoners discover that all the Epics have been sent from Babilar, a city located in what was formally Manhattan, ruled by the High Epic known as Regalia, who has a mysterious connection to Prof, aka Jon Phaedrus, the head of the Reckoners and secret High Epic himself. Prof, Tia and David head to Babilar, meeting up with the Reckoners there to take down Regalia. That group of Reckoners are mourning the loss of their point-man Sam, who has been killed by Firefight, the undercover Epic David knows as Megan, the girl he may have fallen in love with.

This book is just a whole lot of fun. I didn’t so much read this book as consume it. The plot is twisty without being convoluted with a genuine raising of the stakes throughout the story and a good balance between fun action stuff and the more emotional bits. It also has some killer revelations about the overall nature of Calamity and the true nature of the Epics, leaving the series in a very interesting place for the next book.

Its ridiculous how consistently good Sanderson is. Most authors as prolific as this, even the great ones, churn out their fair share of misses. Look at Stephen King, for every masterpiece like the Dark Tower books or The Stand we get a fair bit of dross like Cell. Considering that Sanderson regularly publishes up to three books a year there haven’t really been any stinkers. Sure, some are better than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book of his that wasn’t at least a 7/10. He’s not flashy in how he writes, but it’s clear and simple and oh-so readable.

David is a breath of fresh air in YA fiction. In a genre where the default setting is often with phasers set to brood, David is refreshingly energetic and enthusiastic without being obnoxious. I also like that Sanderson gave him one, big character trait which is constantly referred back to; e.g, his inability to use metaphors. It may be a bit silly, but even with good YA protagonists like Katniss Everdeen, it can be difficult to find traits beyond basic things like ‘kind’, ‘heroic’ and ‘caring.’ Firefight may not necessarily be Sanderson’s most memorable book, but I’ll always remember David as the guy with the bad metaphors. The supporting cast are good too, with Megan being a solid love interest with an actual personality. My favourite character is Prof, head of the Reckoners and undercover Epic, with a good range of villains better developed than the intentionally enigmatic Steelheart.

Firefight is just a really good book, plain and simple. It ticks all of the right boxes and I can’t wait to see where Sanderson goes with the series from here. In the time being I have the next Wax & Wayne Mistborn book to look forward to!isbn9780575104525-1x3a

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

This is the first non-Cosmere book I’ve read by Sanderson (not counting his Wheel of Time books), and my first step into his YA writing. I’m trying to read more YA stuff, as I recently qualified as a teacher and am always on the lookout for more books that I can recommend to students. A good YA book manages to be accessible whilst still telling a good, meaningful story. Steelheart absolutely succeeds there; I loved it, and I think kids will too.

Steelheart takes place in Chicago 10 years after the ‘Calamity’, a light that appeared above the Earth and transformed a small portion of the human population into ‘Epics’, giving them super powers. Sadly, no heroes arose, with Epic powers inevitably turning their wielders into sociopaths obsessed with power and domination over normals. The world has been ravaged by the Epics, with one of the few bastions of order being Chicago, now known (a bit ridiculously) as Newcago, which is under the utter control of Steelheart, an Epic with the powers of flight, invulnerability and the ability to turn objects into steel. David is a young man whose father was killed by Steelheart during his first subjugation of the city, and has spent his entire youth studying Epics and their weaknesses so he can eventually take his revenge. He stumbles across the Reckoners, a group of normals who hunt down and assassinate low level Epics. David joins the group and soon persuades them to expand their scope and aim for a higher target; Steelheart himself. David is the only person who has seen Steelheart bleed, and in his memory is hidden the secret to bringing him down.

Sanderson isn’t typically known for being a pacey writer; that’s not a criticism, his slow builds towards awesome climaxes is a real strength of his writing. As YA books should be, Steelheart is Sanderson picking up the pace, and this is a book that doesn’t really take a breath from start to finish, as David and the Reckoners work their way through Steelheart’s inner circle before tackling the man himself. The central mysteries at the core of the story are satisfying, and the plot has that pleasing sense of internal logic and consistency which has become one of Sanderson’s hallmarks. This isn’t quite the epic story of Sanderson’s other works, but it doesn’t need to be; it’s a more personal story, focusing on one man’s vendetta. I love Sanderson’s epic writing, but his slightly more focused work like The Emperor’s Soul are great as well. There’s some similarity between Steelheart and The Final Empire, the first Mistborn book, in that both are about a small, plucky group of rebels working to take down a dictator with God-like powers. Steelheart is probably the most action heavy book Sanderson’s written, and it’s actually brilliantly done. I tend to glaze over during action scenes, but the many conflicts in this novel, particularly during the finale, are genuinely really exciting.

David isn’t exactly ground breaking as a protagonist, but that’s often the case in YA books, providing a relatively blank slate for readers to project themselves onto. One trait I did find rather endearing is his inability to use metaphors, which is a delightfully weird little quirk which came up pretty regularly throughout the book. It’s the little details like this that set Steelheart apart from other YA fare. Steelheart is a scary villain, although for most of the novel he’s a remote presence; we could have done with more of him. The supporting cast are likeable, but thinly drawn, with most lacking the spark that Sanderson usually inserts into even his minor characters. Still, overall I like these characters enough that I’m looking forward to seeing what they get up to in the sequel coming later this year, Firefight.

Although it doesn’t quite match Sanderson’s Cosmere stuff for scope, Steelheart is a compulsively readable and extremely entertaining novel. I’d recommend it to anyone, of any age.  death

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