Review: Steelheart


Flying SaucerFlying SaucerFlying Saucer

Three flying saucers
(3 out of 4 rating)

I’m not normally into superheroes, but I almost gave this story my very top rating. I’ll discuss why I didn’t at the end of the review (below the triple spoiler dragons), but basically the story just went a chapter too far. If it had ended right at the conclusion of its climax, I would have said it had one of the best story endings, possibly THE best story ending, that I can remember.

I had one additional problem with the book; I didn’t realize it was a “young adult” book when I bought it. So, maybe there are elements in the story which are requirements of the genre, and my issues are with the genre itself, or maybe another author could have implemented the YA concept differently. I can’t say, as this is the only YA book I’ve ever read.

In the story, an event occurs which causes a large number of people to develop superpowers. Instead of half of them becoming superheroes and half becoming supervillains, they ALL turn to crime or set themselves up as warlords or dictators. The main character in the story is an orphan who has just turned 18 and left an orphanage. As a child, he witnessed his father being murdered by Steelheart, one of the most powerful supervillains and dictator of “Newcago” (Chicago). This led the main character to spend the rest of his life obsessing about supervillains and how to kill them. He manages to link up with a small resistance group, and together they try to kill Steelheart.

The Spoiler Dragon

One of the members of the resistance group is a teenage girl. In between a series of intensely dangerous crises, or possibly during them, the reader gets to hear the main character’s thoughts, such as “Does she like me?” or “Why doesn’t she like me?” This drove me nuts, and more importantly, takes the reader away from the life-and-death nature of the situation. In the middle of the book, there’s a scene where the teenage girl is critically injured and on an operating room table. It’s supposed to be a tense, heart-wrenching scene, but I couldn’t stop hoping that the girl would die, so I wouldn’t have to listen to the main character think about her any more. Apparently, YA readers can imagine themselves taking on invincible supervillains and saving the world, but can’t imagine coherent interaction with the opposite sex.

The Spoiler DragonThe Spoiler DragonThe Spoiler Dragon

During a final climactic battle in which the resistance group takes on Steelheart, some of his supervillain allies, and an army of henchmen, the main character arranges things so that his own death also causes the death of Steelheart. That moment should have been the end of the story, and the end of the main character. I try to maintain a Latin-free blog, but there’s nothing to say at this point other than “Deus ex machina”. The main character survives in some improbable manner (I can’t even remember exactly how) as does every member of the resistance band. Not only did this distract from the “poetic justice” of the ending, it somehow seemed to lessen all of the earlier danger that the characters went through.


  1. Does sound like a disappointing resolution, then, although it does seem a little like if the starting point is people getting superpowers then, well, how can a super powered person ever actually get killed?

  2. Oops, my review might have been a little confusing, but your comment relates to my point. The orphan doesn’t have superpowers, yet he and the other non-powered resistance fighters all manage to survive while killing numerous supervillains and an army of non-super henchmen (the superpowered people usually have some weakness that can be exploited to kill them). I felt that the author either was too attached to the characters to let them die, or felt that he needed them around for a possible sequel.

  3. Just started reading this today! I’ll admit that the first person perspective is throwing me off, so not used to that from Sanderson. But, I’m only on page 80 or so, so I’m keeping an open mind.

    1. I hope I didn’t put too many spoilers up there. I usually try to keep my spoilers as vague as possible, just giving out the minimum info that will make my point.

      1. I did read too far. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself, but I plan on coming back to finish it once I’ve read the book.

  4. Sanderson is in my to-read list, which is why this review interested me. Where do you think I should start? The Mistborn series? Stormlight Archive? Warbreakers?

    1. Sorry, I can’t help you with that question; this was my first Sanderson novel.

  5. I always love the mis-used power theme…sounds interesting. Thanks for this review, I’ll look for this one at my library!

  6. “YA readers can imagine themselves taking on invincible supervillains and saving the world, but can’t imagine coherent interaction with the opposite sex.”

    From what I remember about being in this age group, that sounds about right.

    1. Maybe the author totally nailed it then!

  7. I’ve read young adult books as well – not noticing at 1st. One blessing is the lack of steamy scenes. I didn’t read all of your review because of the spoiler alert – but I appreciated the beginning where it let me know it was an interesting read and why.
    Thanks for looking at my reviews on Sci-Fi. Glad to meet another Sci-Fi reader and I hope we can swap books again – my Sci-Fi & Fantasy Book Reviews are sporadic and I rarely write about what I don’t like I’ll try to link yours when a book is the same.
    ….My monicker ‘artinstructor’ is related to my art of course.

  8. […] main character of this story reminded me of the main character from Steelheart: a socially awkward teenager facing end-of-the-world-style problems. However, in Catskinner’s […]

  9. […] young adult.  I’ve reviewed a couple of young adult books with major fantasy elements:  Steelheart and Children of the Different, but I thought to get the full experience, I’d need to try a […]

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