Calamity – Brandon Sanderson

calamityWith Calamity, Brandon Sanderson gives fans the rarest of treats: an ending. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I love Brandon’s work, am beyond thrilled at his expansive and intricate Cosmere, and am fully committed for the long haul, if it ends at thirty-six books, or fifty, or one hundred.

But to see the pieces click into place, to watch the carefully laid plans line up and deliver on an epic-if you’ll pardon the pun-finale; that’s a special feeling. And while it doesn’t answer every question raised in the Reckoners series, Calamity ties up the story with an explosive bow. (See my Steelheart and Firefight reviews before continuing, and beware of spoilers below.)

The Reckoners series is about fear. It’s about what feat does to us when we let it own us, and it’s about how it can be taken advantage of as a means of control.

It is also about confronting fear, accepting it, and living through—and past—it.

Fear is a facet of the human experience that has long been of particular interest to me. Specific fears vary wildly between individuals, but the idea of communal fear, of cultural fear, is a far more fascinating one. I started thinking about cultural fear when I moved back to the US as a pre-teen, after living in Israel for close to six years. Ironically, the concept of cultural fear didn’t occur to me while living in a practical war-zone—only when the questions began did I start thinking about fear.

“Why would you live there?” 
“Are your parents crazy?”
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
“Weren’t you afraid?”

And these questions didn’t come solely from other children—even adults would challenge the very idea of living in Israel as a frightening one. Cultural fear is the basis of intolerance, the source of an “us-versus-them” mentality. We can argue the philosophy of that statement another time, or in the comments below, if you feel like it. I feel—and have been called pessimistic for it—that the only thing that will unite humanity, allow us to set aside our many differences, is a common enemy to fear.

What happens in The Reckoners is that humanity is united by a single fear that supersedes cultural fears. Death at the hands of terrifying super-beings , called epics, who have an equally supernatural distaste for non-supers. Sounds like a pretty good grand unifier to me.

Unbeknownst to the average human, these epics are also ruled by fear. Use of their powers infects the epics with a kind of darkness that is the source of their cruelty toward humans. Their weaknesses—because they’ve got to have them—are defined by their fears, as is their path out of the darkness. By facing their fears in an almost literal manifestation of Individuation, they overcome the darkness, gaining the ability to use their powers without being overcome by darkness.

So, in the Reckoners, Brandon has created a world defined by its fears. Cleverly, he gives one of the main characters the ability to access other possible universes. And when David is sent to a world where epics are not feared, and Calamity, the bizarre satellite responsible for creating the epics, is nowhere to be seen. When he sees a word not ruled by fear, he is overwhelmed with the knowledge that it can be beaten.

The path to victory for the Reckoners is paved with more than fighting prowess, epic battles, and lots of bullets; it’s paved with the bravery required to admit one’s own fear, face it, and move through it.

As I read Calamity, my thoughts drifted over my favorite passage from Dune, a well-known litany that helped me, many characters, and countless people deal with fear:

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Calamity was an excellent book. The entirety of the Reckoners series is some great fiction. I highly recommend picking it, and Steelheart and Firefight up, if you want some awesome super-powered action, and a little bit of inspiration besides. (Using these links helps support The Warbler!)

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