Friday, January 16, 2015

Book Review: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Sequels are sometimes weak novels as they usually lack the fresh characterization and unique story of the prior novel. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson is the exception! The second novel in the Reckoners series (not counting the novella Mitosis, which I haven't read) is just as strong, if not stronger, than the first: Steelheart. I'd still recommend reading them in order, as the events of Firefight happen some time after Steelheart. Interestingly enough, I was in Seattle when Sanderson stopped by on tour to promote this book. Alas, I was too busy to attend.

Read on for my full spoiler-free review. I have to say this has been a bit difficult to keep spoiler-free as some things, like Firefight's identify, are revealed in Steelheart and I don't want to spoil that.

Overall Impression
This is another great Sanderson book and cements the Reckoners series as another to-read-series.
Characters, setting, plot, Sanderson manages them all very well to craft an action-packed story with the intrigue and realistic characters we have come to expect from his novels. As before, we plenty of "super-villains," or epics, which wield great power but only when used for evil. While the epic Firefight does appear and ends up an important part of the story, most of it really focuses on the main villain, Regalia, which makes me wonder if that had been a better title. Nevertheless, in the greater scope of the series I'm sure Firefight will end up being far more important than Regalia.

Like most of Sanderson books, the plot is fast-paced and action-packed. Having defeated Steelheart and brought some sense of freedom to Newcago, the Reckoners face down yet another epic and quickly discover a link between recent attacks and the epic in charge of Babylon Restored (or Babylar for short). Several of the Reckoners, including the main character David, set off to find out what's going on in Babylar. The situation is more dire than they can imagine and it's quickly a race against time as they struggle to find and bring down the most clever epic they've faced yet: Regalia, with the power to control water and see and hear everything as long as it's near water.

Sanderson excels at creating believable and memorable characters. David is an excellent counterpoint to the frigid perfection of the main characters of other books. David is a nerd-in-denial who loves his guns and learning about epics. He's not very experienced with water or social situations and is absolutely terrible at metaphors (actually similes):
The sun sank down like a giant golden pat of butter melting onto the corn of New Jersey. Or … wait. That abandoned city was kind of more like spinach than corn. So the sun sank down into the spinach of Jersey.

As a non-perfect character, we can identify far more readily with David and connect to his struggles. The other characters are just as well-crafted: Exel is a friendly, fat mortician; Mizzy is a kind hyperactive explosive expert; and Val is the abrasive team leader of the Babylar group. We see again more of Prof and some of the other Reckoners as well. The villains are neat too and we spend most of the novel wondering at Regalia and Obliteration's motives.

Setting / World Building
As before, the world of the Reckoners is set in modern-day Earth with one major difference: a red star called Calamity has appeared and some people have gained supernatural powers. These powers have corrupted them and these "epics" have destroyed civilization. Nevertheless, there are pockets of civilization as certain epics have stacked claims on cities and rule them with an iron fist. Newcago, the setting of Steelheart, is one such place. In this novel, we visit Babylon Restored, or Babylar, formerly Manhattan.

Babylar is a mysterious place. Ruled by the hydromancer Regalia, it lies partially below water and people live on rooftops. At night, graffiti and other street art glows with an unearthly light. Glowing fruits grow inside buildings despite lacking sunlight and provide food for the city. Exactly what is going on in the city and whether or not an epic named Dawnslight truly exists is a mystery the characters, especially David, seek to unravel. Exploring the city and the limits of Regalia's power drives part of the novel.

Final Thoughts
Sanderson is one of my favorite authors and he has yet to disappoint me. This is another great story featuring excellent characters with both fast-paced action and slow moments to ponder the mysteries of the world. Despite the fact that I usually don't enjoy straight up superhero stories, the Reckoners series is quickly becoming an excellent set of books to read. Maybe it's the fact the superhero story has been turned upside down, or the fact that Sanderson is such a good storyteller. Regardless, this is a series I'll certainly continue and I highly recommend you pick it up.

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