This science fiction novel by Brandon Sanderson is the first in "The Reckoners" series published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House Inc.
Steelheart is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
A giant red star called Calamity rises in the sky. Suddenly, a number of ordinary humans develop super powers. Some can create elaborate illusions. Others demonstrate abnormal strength. Each new individual manifests his or her power in a unique fashion. Most, it seems, have lost all sense of right and wrong in the process. They become known as Epics, and the world begins to change. When David Charleston is 8, Epics are still fairly new. They have just begun to use their power against the masses. David's father still believes Epics can't all be bad. He says that whenever villains appear, heroes will show up, too.
David and his father are in a bank when a powerful Epic named Steelheart makes his entrance and begins firing on people. David's father shoots at Steelheart, and the Epic kills Mr. Charleston. Shortly after this massacre, Steelheart makes himself leader of Newcago (formerly Chicago) and uses his powers to turn much of the city to steel.
David can't forget what he saw the day his father died. He particularly can't forget that he saw Steelheart, who is supposedly invincible and impervious to gunshot wounds, bleed. From the dark, steel-coated streets underneath Newcago, young David vows to avenge his father's death.
He learns everything he can about Epics and plans to join up with the Reckoners, the only people making any effort to fight for justice. The Reckoners are an underground vigilante group that stealthily attacks and kills Epics. When David is 18, he tracks down the Reckoners and places himself in the center of their raid on an Epic to get their attention.
Because of his willingness to share his decade of research on Epics, the Reckoners reluctantly allow David to join them. Professor Jonathan Phaedrus, founder of the Reckoners, leads the group. A woman named Tia runs the command center while Cody (the Southerner who rambles about his Scottish ancestors), Abraham (the soft-spoken gunner) and Megan (another recent recruit, whom David grows to love) bring down Epics on the streets. The Reckoners use many high-tech devices, including special gloves called Tensors. Tensors allow the team members to burrow tunnels through the steel and gain access to normally unreachable places.
While David is proud to be part of a team that's ridding the world of weaker Epics, he tells them he doesn't think they're doing enough. Nothing will change, he says, until they take down powerful Epics such as Steelheart. David convinces the Reckoners to begin planning a strike on Steelheart. They decide to draw the High Epic out of his secure hiding place by making him believe another high-powered Epic, whom they've named Limelight, has come to town to challenge his reign.
David is anxious to get his long-awaited revenge on Steelheart. Amid their planning, he and the other Reckoners ponder the path they've chosen, characterized by killing and avenging. Some team members believe they must find a passion beyond revenge, while others feel they should sacrifice all personal desires to make life safer for others. As David's affection for Megan grows, he realizes he is capable of feeling a strong emotion other than hatred and the desire for revenge.
The Reckoners blow up Newcago's power plant and then kidnap one of Steelheart's right-hand men, an energy-producing Epic called Conflux. They learn that Conflux is a mild-mannered man who was actually Steelheart's prisoner. Conflux has the ability to gift his powers to others, and he willingly shares them with the Reckoners in their efforts to fight Steelheart.
In a high-speed motorcycle chase, Megan is critically injured. David carries her back to the Reckoners' hideout, where she dies. The Reckoners burn the hideout behind them with her body inside so they can't be traced. Soon after, the Reckoners lure Steelheart and his enforcers to a run-down stadium.
They have several theories about what might have happened in the bank 10 years earlier to make Steelheart bleed. They test out the various theories, such as trying to catch Steelheart in crossfire and shooting him with David's father's gun. Nothing works.
While David is racing through the stadium, avoiding several of Steelheart's other top Epics, he sees images of Megan. Over their communication devices, the other Reckoners try to convince David this Megan is just an illusion created by an Epic named Nightwielder. Once David kills Nightwielder, he discovers that Megan is alive. He also learns she is actually Steelheart's assistant, an Epic name Firefight, who infiltrated the Reckoners to get information.
Having been reincarnated, Megan is confused and has lost some of her memories. She allows David to escape. He faces off with Steelheart and realizes that only someone who doesn't fear him can kill the High Epic. Thus, he tricks Steelheart into destroying himself.
Up to this point, professor Phaedrus has been using the Tensors to distract Steelheart. David discovers professor Phaedrus is a good Epic. David tells him the truth about Megan and tries to convince the confused Megan to come back with the Reckoners. Still uncertain about her role in the war, she refuses. In the end, David realizes he hasn't just been fighting for vengeance, but for his father's dreams of good Epics and redemption.
Other Belief Systems
Some people believe Epics gained their powers as part of the human evolutionary process. Others think Epics are a punishment sent by some god. David says he viewed the Reckoners as his god before joining them. David says people like his father and Abraham, called The Faithful, believe good Epics would come and provide salvation for the world. Megan is reincarnated.
H---, d--n, suck and crappy appear a few times each. At one point, professor Phaedrus says, "God help us," not to call out for God's help but as an expression to mean that they are facing a difficult task. One Reckoner is described as "anal." Characters do a lot of "cursing," using curse words the author has invented, such as Sparks! or Calamity!
Revenge-driven David has a fascination with guns, and many gun battles take place. Epics kill many humans, including David's father. Reckoners kill Epics and their human enforcement squads. Some battles involve blood, while others include people being vaporized or turned to dust. Injuries and high body counts are mentioned, but the bloodshed is not described at length or in detail.
Megan wears a tight, low-cut dress, eventually ripping off the skirt so she can run better in the biking shorts she is wearing underneath. David has to remind himself not to stare at her, and one of his male cohorts teases him about looking down her shirt. An Epic named Fortuity and his date kiss intensely beneath a streetlight. When David sees the dying Megan, naked on the operating table, he has a strong desire to cover her with something to protect her dignity.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What is David's motivation throughout most the book?
- Why is it problematic to be driven by a desire for revenge?
- What are some possible consequences of harboring vengeful thoughts or plotting to get back at someone?
- What does the Bible say about revenge?
Why might God want to be the one to avenge injustice?
In what circumstances, if any, should a person resort to violent behavior?
- When isn't violence the right response?
- In what situations might it be the right response?
What are some healthy ways you can address injustice in our world without resorting to violence?
What emotion starts to make David see beyond his desire for revenge?
- What emotions dictate the decisions you make in your life?
- What decisions should never be made when you are emotional?
- What is the danger of making big life decisions when you are emotional?
- How can you keep yourself from doing this?
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Readability Age Range
12 and up
Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House Inc.
YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2014; Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book, 2014