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Brandon Sanderson's young adult novel 'Steelheart' delivers epic action

Published: Sunday, July 5 2015 9:25 a.m. MDT

"Steelheart" is Utah author's Brandon Sanderson's altest novel. (Random House)

Brandon Sanderson was driving along one day when someone cut him off in traffic.

“I had this immediate guttural reaction of, ‘You’re lucky I don’t have superpowers, because I would totally blow your car off the road!’ ” Sanderson said of the incident. “And I was horrified, right? Because I was like, ‘Where did that come from, that side of me? It’s a good thing I don’t have superpowers!’ ”

That idea joined another he’d already had in his mind: “What if the good guys didn’t always have the power?”

Sanderson, the author of the internationally best-selling Mistborn trilogy, had written many books about people who gain and use awesome powers, and he wanted to try writing one that took a different route.

“And it turned into a story about a world where people started gaining amazing powers but only evil people got them," he said. "And then the story of a young man who wanted to bring one of these people down but didn’t have any powers himself really stuck with me and started to develop into this story.”

Brandon Sanderson's latest novel is titled Brandon Sanderson's latest novel is titled "Steelheart" and is targeted at young adults. (Micah DeMoux)

That story became the 386-page “Steelheart” (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $18.99, ages 14 and up), which is Sanderson’s first novel written for young adults and is scheduled to be released on Sept. 24.

David Charleston was 8 years old when he went to a Chicago bank with his father and saw him brutally murdered by the Epic known as Steelheart.

Steelheart is one of the most powerful of the Epics, ordinary humans who gained extraordinary powers a year after the red star called Calamity appeared in the sky. Some Epics can predict the future. Some can create illusions. Others can control the elements. The stronger Epics usually have more than one power.

Many people thought the Epics would use their powers to help mankind.

They were wrong.

Brandon Sanderson's latest novel is titled Brandon Sanderson's latest novel is titled "Steelheart" and is targeted at young adults. (Micah DeMoux)

Steelheart has the strength of 10 men. He’s virtually indestructible, he can fly and when he’s enraged he can turn inanimate objects into steel. He exercised that particular power to transform most of Chicago and part of Lake Michigan before becoming the emperor of “Newcago.”

David became an orphan when his father died. Ten years have passed, and his one goal in life is to bring Steelheart down. He decides to recruit the help of the Reckoners, a group of humans who study Epics to the end of learning their weaknesses and killing them.

Tracking down the Reckoners is challenging, and harder still is becoming one of them. Fortunately for David, he has something irresistible to offer. All Epics have a weakness that neutralizes their powers, and David’s memory of what happened at the bank, the only time Steelheart has ever been injured, could be the only key to Steelheart’s weakness and ultimate undoing.

David is now 18, and his focus has always been to defeat Steelheart. But when he meets Megan, a beautiful Reckoner, he finds his attention diverted at times to something other than revenge. Unfortunately for him, his wooing ability is woefully underdeveloped.

But little time exists for romance. New challenges arise as the Reckoners begin forming and executing their plans. After all, Steelheart may be the most powerful Epic in Newcago, but he’s certainly not the only one. David and the others have plenty to do and overcome before they can even hope to attempt the impossible.

“Steelheart” was written for a young adult audience, and there’s little to none as far as profanity and sexual content. However, the book has many battle scenes with several instances of violence. For example, in the prologue an infant is turned to ashes and bones in the arms of its mother. The event, the mother’s reaction and the related descriptions can be disturbing.

Not all of the showdowns strike that eerie note, however, and the fact that the story is told from David’s perspective helps balance out the more intense sequences because his voice is one of good intentions and innocent determination, not to mention many delightfully lousy metaphors.

“Steelheart” contains near-nonstop action, which works well for the plot and makes sense because Sanderson, who lives in Utah, drew inspiration from some of his favorite action movies while writing “Steelheart.”

“For me, an action movie is often about one really intense character who’s trying to fulfill something, mixed with this sort of breakneck pacing,” he said.

“I wanted to write something that just had that awesome boom-boom-boom pacing. Some of my favorites are things like ‘The Dark Knight.’ I love ‘The Dark Knight.’ I love the emotion and the power of it.”

When he writes for adults, Sanderson said, his approach is different from the one he takes when he is writing for teens.

“When I write epic fantasy for adults, one of the things I’m trying to do is do this sense of immersion. I want to do a lot of complicated world-building and make a world that as you read, it feels very real,” he said.

“When I’m writing a teen novel like this … my focus was on character voice. Now, granted, I want to do great characters no matter what I do, but whatever book you write, you kind of end up trying to focus on different things, and for me it was really the voice of David, the protagonist.”

The character David’s use of off-kilter metaphors became a part of that, and it proved to be more difficult to write than Sanderson had anticipated.

“Those things were so hard to write,” he said. “I put myself in this position where I had to come up with these awful yet fun metaphors. It was dreadful. It’s amusing how much more difficult it was to write bad metaphors, essentially. I’m not even sure what the process really was other than banging my head against the wall. And trying, you know.”

Sanderson said his current projects are writing “Firefight,” the sequel to “Steelheart,” and revising “Words of Radiance,” the sequel to “The Way of Kings” in his the Stormlight Archive series.

Sanderson recently accomplished one of his greatest goals: to win a Hugo Award. And he didn’t just win one. On Sept. 1, at Worldcon in San Antonio, he won two of them.

“It was amazing. It’s a highlight of my life. For those who aren’t into science fiction and fantasy … this is kind of like our Academy Awards. And growing up, a lot of my favorite books, like ‘Ender’s Game,’ were Hugo Award winners,” Sanderson said.

His Hugo Awards were for Best Novella for “The Emperor’s Soul” and for Best Related Work for his seventh season of “Writing Excuses” podcasts.

“It means a lot to me,” he said. “It’s an award that I’ve always trusted and respected, and so the chance to actually have my name on one of those statues is pretty much incomparable.”

If writing were an Epic ability, the Reckoners would have Sanderson at the top of their hit list; he’d be far too powerful to let alone.

If you go ...

What: "Steelheart" book launch and Brandon Sanderson book signing

When: Tuesday, Sept. 24, 5 p.m.

Where: Barnes and Noble, University Crossings Plaza, 330 E. 1300 South, Orem

Web: barnesandnoble.com, brandonsanderson.com

Also ...

What: Brandon Sanderson book signing

When: Wednesday, Sept. 25,

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com

Notes: Brandon Sanderson will personalize three books per person. Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of "Steelheart" from the King's English. Two event tickets are included with the purchase of one copy of "Steelheart" from The King's English. Should the venue run out of seats, there will be signing-line-only tickets available for those who also purchase a copy of the new book.

Also ...

When: Saturday Oct. 19, 6 p.m.

Where: Barnes and Noble, Jordan Landing, 7157 Plaza Center Drive, West Jordan

Web: barnesandnoble.com

Rachel Brutsch is an intern with the features section of the Deseret News. She has a bachelor's degree in communications from BYU-Idaho. Email: rbrutsch@deseretnews.com

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