I wanted to read this book because it has garnered many awards, especially in the categories of “favorite teen books.” I was surprised (but perhaps should not have been) to find that this book seemed more like a computer game or Marvel Comic Book in prose – sort of like a reverse graphic novel.
The narrator is David Charleston, 18, who is living in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, now called Newcago. Twelve years earlier, “Calamity” appeared in the sky, and the next year, ordinary men started changing into “Epics” – people who had some sort of superpower (which varied among Epics). No one knows what Calamity is or how the Epics came into being, but there are plenty of theories, including a popular one of a government project gone wrong.
The second year after Calamity, David had an unfortunate encounter of his own with a couple of Epics, and he was the lone survivor. Ever since, he vowed somehow to get revenge on Steelheart, the “super” Epic who had killed his father and everyone else around him that day.
David has lived his life underground, like most of the other denizens of Newcago, studying the Epics to find out each one’s power and each one’s weakness (classically known as the Achilles Heel but now referred to as the“Kryptonite Factor”).
At the same time, David also has been searching for the “Reckoners,” a shadowy group who occasionally assassinated powerful Epics; he wants to join this group, and manages both to find them and to prove his worth. But can anyone really combat superpowers? And David is impulsive, impetuous, and reckless, qualities that can sometimes work out, but more often, put the group into very big danger.
The Reckoners manage to come up with some super skills of their own, thanks to the prowess of their leader, “Prof.” These enhanced capabilities prove to be very fun for David, who, in any event, doesn’t really act much more mature than a young boy who reads comics all the time. David also falls into Insta-Love with one of the Reckoners, one who is nasty and volatile but happens to be beautiful, which is enough for David.
The author lightens up the action by two humorous themes running through the story: the attempt by one of the Reckoners to speak and act Scottish, and David’s ineptness at making metaphors. I thought each of these threads peurile or corny rather than funny, but I’m probably older than most of the target reading group.
Finally, the “depth” of the book also seemed to me similar to a comic book; i.e., there didn’t seem to be much.
Although there is a sequel, I didn’t really care enough about the characters or their world to want to keep going.
Evaluation: If you like stories about superheroes (with all the standard tropes); the sort of worlds they inhabit; and the kind of action sequences found in comic books and online gaming, this book will have much appeal. It is hugely popular with its intended audience.
Published by Dragonsteel Entertainment, 2013