Spoilers for Steelheart
Disclaimer : I received a copy from Audible in return for a review.
They told David it was impossible–that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet, Steelheart–invincible, immortal, unconquerable–is dead. And he died by David’s hand.
Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life more simple. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And there’s no one in Newcago who can give him the answers he needs.
Babilar, the old borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though.
Firefight is book two of the Reckoners series, picking up where Steelheart left off. Steelheart has been killed, and Newcago is free – sort of. Because there’s still epics out there. The book opens with one such epic on the rampage, with David and co. trying to take her down – which they accomplish in short order. It’s a fun and exciting beginning, which is good, because after that the amount of action goes way down.
David and Prof are off to Babilar, because it seems that Regalia, the ruling epic there, has been sending epics after the Reckoners. And other reasons. Which honestly felt a bit contrived, but whatever, we knew the whole series couldn’t be set in Newcago. And so we get to Babilar, and meet the Reckoner cell there.
I thought the worldbuilding in Steelheart was great, but Firefight’s setting just blows Newcago out of the water. Sanderson creates a really good atmosphere of mystery and intrigue, set in a Manhattan flooded with water, full of mysterious glowing lights and a curiously apathetic populace, and hanging over it all is the destructive, enigmatic and scripture-quoting high epic, Obliteration.
Which was fitting, because the plot of Firefight is as different from Steelheart’s as Babilar is different from the stark Newcago. While Steelheart was all about the action, an all out assault on an invincible enemy, Firefight is more about internal struggles. There’s Regalia’s plotting, and the Reckoner’s counter-plotting, and that has all the trademark Sanderson edge-of-your-seat what-is-going-on! moments.
But the real star for me was the big question that the book raises : can the Epics be redeemed? Can they escape the corruption that their powers bring? And there’s a lot of wrangling on this question from David, and Prof, and Megan. Whether that is good or bad is a very subjective thing. I though it was very well done, and made for a nice change from the rather basic plot of Steelheart.
The flip side though, like I said in the beginning, is that the middle of the book has very little real action. It’s just the Reckoners trying to figure out what Regalia is up to and how to counter her and Obliteration. With periodic appearances by Firefight/Megan. She was in many ways the focus of the book, even though she had little to do with the actual big conflict. And she finally evolved from the tough-but-hot chick in Steelheart, which is great, because I felt Steelheart was a bit lacking in the character department. That’s remedied now though, as all the returning characters get real depth.
This always seems to be the trouble with middle books. There’s delicious character development and plotbuilding, but the action seems to suffer to make way for that, to build anticipation for the coming conflicts.
Fortunately, the pace picks up in the last quarter of so, as the various schemes and plans come to a head. There’s action, there’s drama, there’s fear and anger, there’s hope and despair. Some pretty jaw-droppingly cool moments. Really, really awesome! Brandon Sanderson has now perfected the art of explosive endings.
Now a word about the narration. I listened to the audiobook narrated by MacLeod Andrews. He does a pretty good job, capturing both the serious and comic portions quite well. His David feels spot on, and he really brings the so-bad-they’re-good metaphors to life. His voices for the other characters felt a bit lacking though, a bit same-y. With the exception of Mizzy. That was done really well.
So, audio or text? I don’t have a clear choice, unlike The Stand. Pick whichever format you prefer – you’re going to have fun either way. Here’s a sample from the audiobook to help you decide:
In summary, great worldbulding and character development, the action (what there was) is as well done as the last book, but the middle has very little of it. Awesome climax that left me eagerly anticipating Calamity. Which sucks, since I now have to wait a whole year.