This review originally appeared at Fantasy-Faction.com.
This review contains some spoilers for Steelheart and Firefight. Read with caution if you have yet to finish the first two books.
“Life was so unfair. You couldn’t both destroy everything around you and live like a king.”
With each book in his Reckoners series, Brandon Sanderson has peeled back a layer of the world he created, providing new, more powerful questions for readers even as old ones are answered. In Calamity, the concluding book in the trilogy, Sanderson continues that tradition. The novel brings the story of David Charleston full circle, but leaves so many unanswered questions that it feels as though Sanderson is leaving the door open to return to this world somewhere down the line, despite his already overflowing publishing schedule. Regardless of whether Sanderson returns to play in this particular sandbox, Calamity represents another strong installment in the series, even if it never quite matches the energy of the first two books in the series, Steelheart and Firefight.
In Steelheart, the opening novel, David and his father see the world changed by the sudden appearance of a mysterious red star in the sky, followed by the discovery that some humans had obtained superhuman powers. Now known as “Epics,” these super-powered individuals are all driven mad by the use of their newfound powers, creating a world filled with supervillains and lacking in superheroes.
After his father is killed, David joins the Reckoners, a band of freedom fighters that relies upon technology and wits to kill Epics. Over the course of Steelheart and Firefight, we learn that the Reckoners’ leader, Prof, and David’s love interest, Megan, are also Epics. David’s encyclopedic knowledge of Epics and their powers quickly makes him a crucial member of the group, and after the events of Firefight turn Prof into a full-blown, evil Epic, David emerges at the beginning of Calamity as the Reckoners’ new leader.
Calamity – and the series as a whole – rely on the same strengths that have made Sanderson so successful in his other works. The worldbuilding is detailed and clever, and creates new pathways for further storytelling. When the Reckoners follow Prof to the city of Ildithia, they find a constantly-moving city made of salt, where one side of the city is constantly crumbling into disrepair, only to be replaced with new salt build-up on the other side of the city. Details like these impact our characters as they try to remain in hiding and keep the series feeling fresh, even after we’ve long grown accustomed to each of the main characters.
Of course, those characters are a strength for the series. If you didn’t have at least some appreciation for David’s terrible similes and metaphors, you probably haven’t made it to the third book in the series, and Sanderson doesn’t ease up on David’s unique use of the English language. In fact, he immediately thrusts you back into the world of the Reckoners with his first line: “The sun peeked over the horizon like the head of a giant radioactive manatee.”
Cody continues to tell outlandish stories that no one believes, Mizzy continues to be a ball of energy, and Abraham remains calm and mysterious. The story never takes much time to dive too deep into any of the supporting characters’ psyches, but Sanderson continues to pepper in hints and clues regarding each, and the addition of Nighthawk provides the team one more unique voice to the collection.
Unfortunately, there are some places where the story isn’t quite as good as its predecessors. One of Steelheart’s greatest strengths was the seeming impossibility of Reckoners’ missions. Even killing minor Epics took months of planning and careful coordination, followed by an immediate exit to avoid retribution from other Epics.
That sense of perpetual terror isn’t quite there in Calamity, even as the Reckoners attempt to turn Prof back from his evil ways, and make plans to kill Calamity himself, the Epic who appears as a red star in the sky and has granted the other Epics their powers. On several occasions, the Reckoners go toe to toe with Prof, heavily relying on Megan’s Epic powers and losing some of their underdog credentials in the process.
As David explains, “You want to fight a god? You better have one on your side too.” At this point in the series, the Reckoners have Epics on their side as well, but it takes away some of the dramatic tension that I loved in Steelheart.
Even as I say that, Megan’s ability to pull in aspects from alternative universes is yet another example of Sanderson’s masterful worldbuilding. Even though it sometimes felt like a crutch to help the Reckoners overcome their enemies, it also opened up some incredible storytelling opportunities that Sanderson takes full advantage of.
Nonetheless, while Sanderson brings David’s story full circle, the ending felt rushed. The confrontation with Calamity – the Epic who has caused all the death and destruction the series has chronicled through three novels – feels almost like an afterthought, even as the epilogue demonstrates that the conclusion was clearly plotted out to provide one more emotional gut punch before the end and bring David’s story full circle.
It may not have been a perfect landing, but the Reckoners still proved to be a really enjoyable series with good action, characters, worldbuilding and revelations. Even when juggling multiple series, Sanderson remains a master of the craft.