To take a break from writing thousand-page epic fantasies, Brandon Sanderson apparently writes little short books, because what else are you going to do with your time? Seriously, if there’s a year that he only has two books published, it’s a slow year for him. And so anyway, I’ve read two of those recently, the first of which is Brandon Sanderon’s The Emperor’s Soul.

Nominally, this is a sequel to his Elantris, but it shares no characters, plot, or even really a setting. If you haven’t read Elantris, you’d be missing nothing by reading this standalone. It’s a short book (a novella, technically, I think). In standard Sandersonian fashion, it has an interesting magic system whose details are key to the story’s plot, but it’s a bit more meditative and… human than most of Sanderson’s work. It’s good, and at the length there’s no reason not to read it if you’re a Sanderson fan. If it has a fault, it’s that it’s slight, but… well, it is a novella.

Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart is a full-on novel, but I think it’s nominally YA. It starts off as YA, anyway, by which I mean that it’s a dystopia—Chicago is covered in blackness and ruled by a despotic super-villain, and Our Hero lives in the undercity in desperate poverty. But past that, it doesn’t read as YA—more as a riff on superhero themes. Most novels that try to do superhero stuff do it as pastiche or in a meta kind of way, more Watchmen than Superman. But Steelheart handles it as an SF novel (or as one of Sanderson’s magic-system fantasy novels), where figuring out the rules of how powers work is a key element of the worldbuilding and the plot both.

The result works surprisingly well, and even some of the world-building elements that seem less-than-plausible at first are made very reasonable and sensible by the end. Solid world-building, fast-faced and unpredictable story, and enjoyable characters working together all add up to an excellent quick read. If you’re going to be flying, this is kind of the ideal airport book—really, it’s the sort of book that you’ll sneak back out of the seat pocket after they make you put away your tablet for takeoff. Highly recommended, and not only to superhero fans. This is apparently the first book of a trilogy, and I’m curious to see if the series as a whole wraps up some of the larger mysteries that are only glanced at in this book.


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