Warning: Potential Steelheart spoilers below!
Maybe it isn’t entirely fair but I often think of Sanderson’ Reckoners series as his “taking a break writing.” That isn’t to say both Steelheart and Firefight are bad novels, they’re both fun adventure stories, but Sanderson’s work on this series lacks some on the intricacy and detail seen in his other fiction. Firefight follows Steelheart almost directly picking up only a little while after the previous novel’s explosive climax. David and Reckoners have organized a new government in Steelheart’s metallic Newcago. Unfortunately, their actions have made them the target for other High Epics looking to move in to the vacuum and to make an example of what happens to those who raise arms against Epics. David and the rest of the Reckoners take the fight to a new High Epic, one targeting them, Regalia who is camped out in the mysterious ruins of flooded Manhattan known as Babylon Restored.
I enjoy David as a main character despite often feeling like I shouldn’t. He’s a goofy, unbelievable earnest teen who I feel should be just too silly to like. Yet, despite that his consistently terrible metaphors, straight-forward attitude, and incessantly optimistic outlook is infectious. In an world that could easily be written in a manner far more grim and gritty David’s almost cartoonish disposition elevates the novel to a level of fun that I’m not sure would otherwise be possible. While David might be a lovable nerdy goofball Sanderson also includes the bouncy and incredibly silly Mizzy into the mix. She lacks some of David’s angst but seeing another wonderfully silly character surrounded by people who seem to be professionally serious upped my enjoyment of the novel. Sanderson isn’t really known as a humorous writer but Firefight definitely proves he can light comedy well.
Where Sanderson is typically known for his complex magic systems and intricate world building the Reckoners series tends to feature a lighter touch. They mystery of how Epics work, why they go bad and what their weaknesses are is a major background mystery that David started exploring in Steelheart and continues contemplating in Firefight. Sanderson is admirably restrained when it comes to the explanations and it makes for an engaging read. It’s sort of refreshing to see the major focus on character and action over plot and world. While there is a meta-story going on, further developed in Firefight, it is secondary to the trials and tribulations of the lead character.
Sanderson also nicely counters the homogenous cityscape of Newcago with the flooded streets of Manhattan rechristened as Babylon Reborn. He does a wonderful job of using the goals and attitudes of the High Epics governing the cities as a means to influence the cultures of its inhabitants. Steelhearts paranoia and isolationism is reflected in the citizens of Newcago while Regalia’s aloof hands-off nature combined with the strange traits of Babylon Restored, abundant glowing vegetation, serving to produce a population more open and celebratory. It’s interesting to watch David, so used to scurrying beneath the oppressive gaze of Steelheart and his regime, be so utterly baffled by the borderline care-free nature of Babylon Restored. The population, accepting the potential for death by an Epic, lacks much of the outrage and aggression seen in Newcago. There is air of religious fervor in Babylon Restored that contrasted directly with the stoicism and cynicism of Newcago. It’s a great change of setting and watching familiar characters interact with the change in attitude makes for some great reading
Firfight proves that even absent of complicated magic system and detail world-building Sanderson can still spill a damn fine yarn. Lightning-paced and speckled with humor Firefight is a novel for anyone looking for a book that is just plain fun. I look forward to seeing where David and the rest of Reckoners go next.