Firefight, second book in the superhero-dystopian RECKONERS series, is a good young adult novel. It’s fun, it’s lively, and the pacing never drags. I do have a handful of quibbles, but none of them are vastly troubling. If all you really want to know is whether Firefight is worth reading or a worthy successor to Steelheart, then you have your answer: a solid affirmative on both counts.
Anyway, our story starts off a few months after the previous novel left off (and shortly after the intervening novella) with the Reckoners struggling to hold Newcago in the aftermath of Steelheart’s demise. Numerous Epics (Sanderson’s word for superhumans) have turned up to make our heroes’ lives miserable, but a majority of them seem to be coming from Babilar (Graffiti Art New York). Prof, the Reckoners’ leader, believes the lead Epic of Babilar — Regalia — is plotting against them, a theory he apparently forms on the basis of mysterious prior connection to Regalia. Meanwhile, protagonist David is still missing Megan Talash (aka Firefight), the woman he loves. The revelation that the use of Epic powers makes the Epics act like lunatics has changed David’s view on the war, and he now nurses a secret ambition to find Firefight and redeem her.
It is partially to this end that he follows Prof to Babilar, where Firefight is rumored to have fled after Steelheart’s fall. The Reckoners arrive in a bizarre kaleidoscope vision of New York with the goal of facing down Regalia and removing her as a threat to Newcago once and for all. Beyond that basic plan, however, their ambitions have begun to diverge. David is quickly becoming an advocate for Epic redemption, where Prof continues to believe death is the only answer.
The clash between David (the energetic idealist) and Prof (the embittered pragmatist) is really the central narrative of the novel. The relationship between David and Megan is a close second, but the outcome is never really in doubt there. Prof and David’s struggle for control of the Reckoners’ direction, on the other hand, is genuinely difficult to predict at times, not least because the confrontation is rarely overt. Each man respects the other, wavers in his convictions, and genuinely wants to avoid forcing a conflict between them. It’s a fine and dandy bit of characterization, and the moments of interaction between Prof and David are fairly effective. For all its predictability, the Megan/David interactions are also well-managed, and I am impressed with how well Sanderson manages Megan, whose associated tropes have so often been the death knell of interesting characterization in other works. Here, she feels like an engaging character, tormented without sinking into low melodrama.
Where these two narratives are well-crafted, however, others can be less enticing. The members of a second Reckoner cell in Babilar are somewhat boring characters even when compared to the flatter Reckoners from last book, Abraham and Cody — in part, perhaps, due to simple lack of exploration. Mizzy is probably the only new character to get much focus, but though she’s likable enough (the good old “dorky yet endearing” type), her bubbly personality feels out of place at times (especially paired with Prof), and I found myself wondering what purpose her relative prominence was meant to serve. She may have been intended to complicate the David/Megan storyline by serving as a potential Jacob Black to Megan’s Edward Cullen (i.e. the comparatively approachable and human alternative to the glamorous but dangerous inhuman), but the love triangle is (so far at least) more vaporous possibility than anything more tangible.
Regalia’s raison d’etre is more obvious than Mizzy’s, but if there’s one side of the storyline that I could single out as a bit weak, it’d be hers. Regalia sends Epics to Newcago to lure Prof to Babilar, but then doesn’t seem to want to kill him. Alarm bells go off, and then… we wait around for the climax. That’s pretty much it for the Regalia storyline. There aren’t many of the moves and countermoves that characterized the conflict between the Reckoners and Steelheart: Regalia merely extends an invitation, the Reckoners show up, and then each side sort of hangs around waiting for the other to blink. When one of them finally does, the ending is suitably exciting and explosive, but for the middle section of the novel there’s an odd lack of urgency to the conflict, particularly given how tense everyone was about Steelheart last book (Sanderson even seems to feel the need to lampshade this a bit, having Prof reflect on how David has somehow made the Reckoners more blasé about killing High Epics). This is still Brandon Sanderson we’re talking about, mind you, so it’s not like the book ever drags or becomes boring, but the Regalia plotline does noticeably languish for a while. Not a major concern, but worth noting.
Other than these points I’ve mentioned, though, I’m mostly without complaints. This is a fun, action-packed novel, especially if one enjoys superhuman abilities as much as Sanderson does. His descriptions of Epic powers and the technological reproductions thereof have the gleeful (and infectious) enthusiasm of the true fan, and for all his dumb metaphors David remains a good protagonist. Sanderson has interesting things to say about the superhero genre, and his imagination is vivid. Babliar is a fun setting, and in general the book operates quite well. A fun, exciting superpower romp and a good follow-up to a decent opening novel.
Firefight starts off with a really rousing manhunt/attempted assassination of a murderous Epic (a person with superpowers who’s been corrupted by them), and quickly thereafter David — who is sometimes called “Steelslayer” now; how cool is that? — heads off with the Prof to what used to be New York City, to try to take care of another major Epic threat. And what New York City (now “Babylon Restored” or “Babilar” for short) has evolved into is almost the polar opposite of Chicago, the setting of the first book. Instead of a steel wasteland, we have kind of an urban Venice (a flooded city with tops of skyscrapers poking out) with glowing graffiti and jungle growth inside of what remains of the buildings.
David is still a teenage guy who’s impetuous and kind of charges around with blinders on, and he still comes up with really, truly painful similes and metaphors (which are not as funny as the author seems to think they are, at least for me), and it all was just getting kind of old. The middle section of the book also slows down quite a bit, giving me time to think about all the stuff that irked me. So when my 12 year old son absconded with the book a few days ago when I was about 40% in, I thought, whatever, I’ll finish it sometime later. Probably.
Well, today my kid finally finished it (5 stars from him) and I decided I might as well do the same. And I was surprised when the second half of the book kind of reached out and grabbed me by the throat and demanded that I finish it, immediately. There were several surprises and unexpected turns, and I even got some answers to more of those pesky questions that the first book had left me with.
So here’s the deal: if you didn’t care for the first book, there’s nothing in here that will really change your mind. If you DID like Steelheart, this is a solid sequel that moves the overall story along nicely.
Now, how to get Sanderson to finish up Calamity a little bit sooner than spring of 2016…
This review contains spoilers for Steelheart, the previous novel in the series.
With great power comes great responsibility, or so the saying goes. When an inexplicable event grants superpowers to common men and women, instead of the heroic deeds of superheroes, the world witnesses its destruction when those same superpowers corrupt those who wield them. Such is the setting Brandon Sanderson introduced us to in Steelheart, the first book in his new young adult series, THE RECKONERS.
Firefight follows just a few months after the ending of Steelheart, with David, now called by his fellow Reckoners as Steelslayer, having killed Steelheart and liberated the city of Newcago from the tyranny of the High Epic, avenging his father’s death in the process. Having achieved his life’s stated purpose, David is finally able to take one step back from all the destruction caused by the Epics he so fiercely hates and ask himself the ultimate question: Are all Epics evil by nature, or can they be redeemed?
Firefight opens with David and the Reckoners trying to bring Sourcefield down, an Epic that has come into Newcago in order to cause as much mayhem as she possibly can. It is later revealed that Sourcefield, along with other Epics that have ventured into Newcago since Steelheart’s death, notably Mitosis from the novella of the same name that Sanderson published
between books, had been sent there on orders from the current ruler of Babilar — the sunken city of New York — a water-bending Epic named Regalia which we learn had ties to Professor Phaedrus from before the days of the Calamity.
Brandon Sanderson first published Elantris in 2005 and has since become one of fantasy’s most notable authors. Now, ten years later, we know what to expect from a Brandon Sanderson novel, and Firefight is as Sanderson-y a novel as it gets. We know the story will be fast paced, impeccably plotted, and that by the end of it we’ll want to read the following installment of the series immediately, and sure enough, Firefight delivers that in spades. In Firefight we learn more about the nature of the Epics, of the Calamity — the event that gave Epics their power — and we learn a lot more of Professor Phaedrus, about who he was before the Calamity, and the true extent of his powers. A plethora of new Epics are introduced, such as Regalia, and I found one of them particularly interesting — Newton, whose power is taking Newton’s Third Law (to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction) to its extreme.
Having said that Firefight is as Sanderson-y as it gets, it’s worth mentioning that for all the praise Sanderson gets for his imaginative and extensive worldbuilding, I believe Firefight, and THE RECKONERS series by extension, features one of his weakest attempts at it. Sanderson forgoes any explanation of how the world outside the Epic-controlled cities works, waving it away by saying that the outside world is harsh and its people savage. It may be that we are seeing the world from the viewpoint of a character who has a lack of knowledge about what the world outside Newcago is like, but given that David is able to get an incredible amount of information on Epics from all over the world, itself a superpowered feat if you ask me, I simply don’t buy into that explanation. The lack of such details makes it hard to maintain the suspension of disbelief required to read a book such as this, where the world is a copy of our own but with a couple hundred superpowered people flying around.
I don’t know whether Firefight being exactly what we have come to expect from Sanderson is a good thing or a bad thing. I certainly felt at times that the only reason I kept reading Firefight was because I knew that by the end of it there would be an explosive revelation that would make me want to read the next book, and sure enough, there was. It’s disappointing as well that the characters never slow down to think about the wider implications of what they are doing or the morality of killing other people, even superpowered ones. David does somewhat ponder those questions, but the action never slows down enough for him to truly think things through. At the beginning of the story he sees Sourcefield’s terrified face before killing her, and that’s all the evidence he needs to conclude that killing Epics indiscriminately is probably not right.
Firefight makes for a good escapist read. It took me an entire day to read it and, by the end, I wanted more. Still, it doesn’t do anything spectacularly new and it makes me wonder whether in the future people will start feeling fatigued with each new Sanderson novel following the same pattern, even if the settings and inner workings of the plot do vary wildly.
The Reckoners — (2013-2016) Young adult. Publisher: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Mistborn Trilogy, Brandon Sanderson, comes the first book in a new, action-packed thrill ride of a series – Steelheart. Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills. Nobody fights the Epics . . . nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them. And David wants in. He wants Steelheart – the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning – and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience. He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.