Firefight – Brandon Sanderson

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Brandon Sanderson is currently on tour, promoting Firefight, the second book in The Reckoners trilogy. I had the pleasure of seeing him at the Seattle Public Library, and I found his presentation to be absolutely riveting and inspiring. In fact, what he said lit a fire under me and I went home, wrote him a letter, and proceeded to put pen to paper on several new short story ideas. Before hopping into my review of Firefight, I’ll leave the last few lines of the email I sent Brandon here:

I no longer fear to love the things I love, and I know I am a Writer, even if I haven’t gone pro yet. I have you to thank for that. I can’t thank you enough. […] Hopefully, some day, I’ll get to thank you properly, in one of my own published works.

There’ll come a day on the Warbler when a post not dissimilar to this one will announce that I’m going to be published. I’m excited about it. You’re excited about it. Let’s make sure that happens soon, shall we?

If you don’t want to read spoilers for Steelheart and Firefight, you’ll want to stop reading right about now.

Anyway, Firefight opens, and we find David Charleston–our hero–in a completely changed Newcago (which, alas, is a pretty lame name for a city, truth be told,) as he’s neck-deep in a fight with a powerful adversary. It lays the foundation for some of the more interesting questions that arise in Firefight, regarding the wider ramifications of the acts of rebellion, the question of power’s corrupting influences, and the fallibility of youthful ardor for revenge.

The thing that I respect most about Brandon’s work is that all of his worlds come from what appears to be the same gestation process: Brandon thinks of something awesome, then builds back a reality in which that awesome thing not only exists, but has large-scale impacts on that reality in a variety of ways that drive interesting story and character development. Okay, full disclosure: I cheated there. That’s what he told us, almost word for word, in his presentation at the Library.

For the Reckoners series, that idea was this: what if, suddenly, superheroes became real, but they were all turned evil? It’s a straightforward enough idea, and in Steelheart, the challenge for David Charleston is exacting revenge upon the Epic (what the superpowered humans are called in the series) who killed his father and subjugated Chicago to a terrible tyranny and almost equally terrible name (sorry, man…Newcago is just not very cool.)

Anyway, Steelheart is action-packed, and as the reader we want nothing more than for David to meet with the fabled Reckoners, who are fighting back against the rule of the Epics. That wish comes true, and we find that things aren’t so simple. The revenge we so crave is brought to bear, but with the aid of an Epic who fights the urge to rule by refusing to use his powers. A layer of depth is added to the tale.

In Firefight, David is reintroduced to us as a killing machine, dispatching epics with regularity and few-to-no regrets–well, with the exception that Prof, his idol and the leader of the Reckoners, is an Epic. Also Meghan, former reckoner and David’s ladylove, is an Epic too. No biggie. This complicates things for David, who has been single-mindedly focused on killing Steelheart, avenging his father, and starting a liberation campaign to remove humanity from the clutches of Epics the world over.

The thing is, Brandon isn’t content with the superficial challenges that might arise from this somewhat unremarkable conflict. He delves deeper, driving more interesting character development, more challenging hurdles for our protagonist to overcome, and still more interesting manifestations of powers that are accompanied by even more interesting weaknesses. I don’t want to spoil much more, because this is an excellent book and I want people to read it, so I’ll just say this: I couldn’t put this down. I read it in about 5 days, because I had to go to work instead of reading all day. Left to my own devices, I’d have finished it in one sitting. It’s a fantastic, exciting, action-packed, thought-provoking, and all around enjoyable read. Keep in mind that it’s Young Adult fiction, but read it anyway. Some of the best books I’ve read in my life were YA fiction. This one was pretty much perfect. 5/5

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