Review – Calamity by Brandon Sanderson (2016)

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Hardcover, 421 pages
Published February 16th 2016 by Delacorte Press
PURCHASE ON AMAZON ($10 hardcover as of today!)

Calamity is the conclusion to Brandon’s ambitious ‘Reckoners‘ series – a young adult, superhero epic that deconstructs what it means to be a superhero, and what would happen if superpowers tainted their users into selfish, evil acts. It’s a fantastic concept, and a really fresh take on what is, often, a bit of a worn out concept (especially considering the rush of superhero movies and TV media of late).

I will admit, openly, that I often struggle with YA books – I find that, more often than not, YA novels feel watered down, neutered, unfulfilled. There are obvious exceptions – the brilliant Hunger Games comes to mind, as well as a piece of art such as Red Rising (which was not really a YA novel). However, if Brandon Sanderson writes something, I will read it – in the case of the Reckoners series, I’m glad that fact pulled me in, as I’ve enjoyed my ride through this world.

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Brandon and I – Worldcon 2015, Spokane, WA

Calamity picks up where Firefight left off – Prof has given into the evil that his powers brought, leaving the Reckoners behind. Meanwhile, Megan, formerly working with Steelheart, continues to help the Reckoners alongside her boyfriend – our protagonist and POV – David. The team is fighting to stop the destruction of more cities, stop Prof and hopefully turn him back into his old self, free of the taint of being a high Epic. The end goal is, of course, to stop Calamity, the head Epic, so to speak, from continuing his path of destruction and influence over the other epics.

The feel of Calamity, for me, was a tad different than the previous novels. It’s the same band of characters, plus a few new faces, but the focus in this novel focuses a lot more on those characters themselves, whereas the previous novels spent a lot more time looking into the Epics, exploring the ramifications of their actions, and highlighting the Oceans 11 style plans the team comes up with to bring them down. While the team is still planning, the Epics are still Epicing, and there is ample high-intensity fighting, Calamity pumps the brakes a bit on the pacing, brings things back into focus, and puts the character changes and development into a much bigger spotlight.

Which, in this case, both works, and also does not necessarily work. I really enjoyed watching some real, tangible character growth – especially towards the end of this novel. More “Oh, damn, I guess I need to change how I think about things” moments, rather than discovering a problem or solution, and just going with it. The downside to this, however, is that with how much focus is placed on this, the action and development of their plan and course of action is stunted, and it brings the series’ rapid pace down quite a bit. It was more of a shock related to the change of pace, rather than a real ‘problem’.

On that note, I did enjoy the characters quite a bit. The Reckoners squad are a lot of fun – a varied group, almost like a stock textbook photo; people of all sexes, races and backgrounds. They work together, each having their own unique speech patterns and quirks: David’s terrible metaphors, Abraham’s sage knowledge, Cody’s ridiculous made up Scotland stories. They are entertaining as hell, and the interplay between these characters, as well as the slight focus placed on each of their ‘quirks’, makes for a very fluid read when they’re interacting with each other. I enjoyed the addition of Nighthawk quite a bit, and thought his predicament was very unique (avoiding spoilers there).

Where this fails a bit is with Calamity himself, the ubervillain of this tale. While all the other characters were bright, fleshed out, explored – Calamity feels…incomplete. He comes across as a whiny, spoiled child, but has little else to him. His background is not explored nearly enough, and I was left with a bit of longing towards the end, wishing I knew more about him, more about his motivations, more than him just being a malevolent baddie. I know in superhero roles, the bad guys are often black/white “baddies”, but this series transcends those “typical” characters, explores them quite a bit, and I wanted Calamity to be explored a lot more.

The ending, as a whole, didn’t quite work for me. I didn’t understand some pieces of it – why certain characters had certain powers, why certain characters gained aforementioned certain powers, and the general feeling of…unfulfillment. I enjoyed my journey through this series, but was left feeling that the conclusion was too open-ended, and not the satisfying, fleshed-out series completions I’ve come to know and love from Sanderson. The book had all of the characteristic things I love from a Brandon book, but the ending came across as a more watered down version of the ending I expected.

The feel-good portions of the ending, namely in the epilogue, I enjoyed quite a bit. I didn’t really see it coming, and it made it all the more enjoyable. I’m normally not the kind of guy who actively seeks a happy ending, but I was glad to see one in this series – it just felt right, it felt like it SHOULD have a happy ending, so I was glad that decision was made.

Overall, I enjoyed Calamity quite a bit. There were a lot of laughable points, some sadness, and a lot of moments in character growth that I really enjoyed. That said, the book felt a bit incomplete, the ending leaving a bit to be desired. I’m a bit torn overall, as I really did have a great time reading this book, as well as the rest of the series, and I’m a bit sad to see it go (for now). This wasn’t my favorite Sanderson novel, but his bar is set so high that I feel I’m not saying much by stating that. Sanderson with some ‘holes’ in the writing is still better than 99% of writers out there, so needless to say, it’s still a great book, a great series, and an enjoyable read.

It just wasn’t perfect.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

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2 thoughts on “Review – Calamity by Brandon Sanderson (2016)

  1. I think I’m probably going to pass on this one. You are not the first person I have heard felt let down by it, and honestly Firefight didn’t work nearly as well for me as Steelheart. Think I’ll leave well enough alone rather than end on a worse note.

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  2. The general consensus seems to be that ending isn’t satisfying. That a bit of a let down to hear, because Steelheart was my favorite book I read last year, and I thought Firefight was also excellent.

    Hasn’t Sanderson announced a new trilogy that will take place in the Reckoners world, or something like that?

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