Cover for Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

When Calamity lit up the sky, the Epics were born. David’s fate has been tied to their villainy ever since that historic night. Steelheart killed his father. Firefight stole his heart. And now Regalia has turned Prof, his closest ally, into a dangerous enemy.

David knew Prof’s secret, and kept it even when Prof struggled to control the effects of his Epic powers. But facing Obliteration in Babilar was too much. Once the Reckoners’ leader, Prof has now embraced his Epic destiny. He’s disappeared into those murky shadows of menace Epics are infamous for the world over, and everyone knows there’s no turning back. . . .

But everyone is wrong. Redemption is possible for Epics—Megan proved it. They’re not lost. Not completely. And David is just about crazy enough to face down the most powerful High Epic of all to get his friend back. Or die trying.

First, a quick disclosure: while the book metadata I’ve included with this post implies I read this book, that is a lie! In fact, my wife and I listened to the audiobooks together, knocking down the first two during our trip to see the 2023 annular eclipse, and then finishing the last one in our livingroom.

Additionally, as I mentioned in the post summary, I didn’t get around to writing down my thoughts about the first two books as we finished them, so like my review of The Nexus trilogy, this review is based on my overall thoughts after finishing the last book, Calamity.

And since these reviews are mainly for Future Brett as he tries to remember what he thought about these books, I’ll just say: sorry buddy. I’ll do my best, here, but I make no guarantees.

Alright, so first a bit of context: I’m kind of a Brandon Sanderson fan.

I don’t say that about a lot of artists. There’s only a small handful of artists–authors, musicians, directors, etc–for whom I’d describe myself as an actual fan; that is, someone who will dive into that artist’s work fully expecting to enjoy the heck out of it every single time.

But Brandon Sanderson is definitely among them.

My fandom started with Mistborn, and I mention that because The Reckoners shares some obvious DNA with that fantastic series. Like Mistborn, The Reckoners drops the reader into a world transformed and made alien, yet familiar, by incomprehensible powers that the characters only barely understand. And like The Reckoners, the story is centered around a main character–in this series, David–who begins his journey young and naive, and over time grows into the person he must be in order to save this broken world.

Also like Mistborn, The Reckoners introduces us to a band of rebels led by a complicated figure–Prof–who is, in his way, fighting back against the darkness that is trying to consume them all. As is often the case with Sanderson’s work, it’s an eclectic cast of characters, none of which are particularly deep, but each of which is charming and uniquely drawn. Of course, Sanderson loves to write characters that have one or two clear traits that more or less define who they are, and that’s on full display here.1 In another author this could come across a bit gimmicky–and honestly, even with Sanderson, it can feel that way at times–but somehow he always manages to make it work. But, also like Sanderson’s past work, the motivations and backstory of these characters are mostly implied, and only explicitly drawn out where it contributes to the main storyline. I’ve always found that a little frustrating about his writing–I like deep, three dimensional characters that I can really connect to–but there’s just enough, here, to make David and Prof and Megan and the rest believable and relatable.

However, where these characters may not have the greatest depth, the chemistry between the cast is excellent, which is critical in supporting the tension in later books and makes some of the more emotional events that much more impactful (and yes, there are one or two scenes where you might need a tissue).

Diving into these characters a bit, starting with David, I genuinely enjoyed him as a character, even if I was frustrated by his withholding information from the team during the last book.2 I suspect some might find his personality quirk of coming up with weird metaphors and similes to be a bit annoying, but it worked for me, introducing lighter moments in an otherwise pretty dark story. I particularly enjoyed how David inverted the usual hero trope by not developing powers that would ultimately allow him to succeed. Rather, David’s success is rooted in his intelligence, his curiosity, and his grit, which, in a YA, is a great message for readers: being a hero doesn’t mean having superpowers.

Megan served as a nice contrast to David: more serious where David was silly, tough and strong where David is clever if a bit naive.3 And inverting the typical gender trope by having Megan be the muscle while David was the brains was a nice switch-up. That, in the first book, she ended up being sullen and distant was a bit frustrating, but her reasons ended up being sound, built on a backstory that ensures Megan isn’t just David’s love interest: there’s a real person, there, with her own hurts and traumas.

Meanwhile, Prof, as the gruff father figure/leader of the group also worked well. The development of his relationship with David felt believable, and the ultimately journey of this character, while painful, worked well for me. I do wish we saw a bit of him in the epilogue of Calamity–we never really saw the aftermath of his experiences and how things turned out–but there’s only so many pages you can write.

The rest of the supporting cast was absolutely enjoyable. I love Cody’s quirkiness, Abraham’s quiet competence, Tia’s brilliance, and Mizzy’s bubbly energy. To be honest, if there’s one thing I wish, it’s that we got some Mizzy in the first book.

Oh, and I have to admit, I absolutely loved Obliteration. He is hands down one of the weirdest, creepiest villains Sanderson has written, and I loved every single scene he was in!

In terms of setting, if you’re familiar with Mistborn or The Stormlight Archives, you’ll know Sanderson loves to create strange, alien-yet-familiar worlds where the setting itself plays a critical part in the storyline. In Mistborn we have the fog. In The Stormlight Archives it’s the storms sweeping the land. Here, it’s the steel of Newcago, the waters of Babylon Restored, and the salt of Ildithia. This approach to setting is one of the things I love about Sanderson’s work. As an author, he’s frequently noted for his deep, logical systems of magic, where the plot flows from the natural consequences of those systems. But often overlooked is how he does the same with settings, creating weird, unique places, and then exploring the consequences of those oddities; consequences that ultimately play an important role in the story. Here, Sanderson is true to form, and each setting works quite well, giving each book its own unique identity4.

Finally, we come to the plot.

Like Mistborn, these books are really about a team working together to fight a greater foe. As a result, you’ll see a familiar trope, here: the plucky band of rebels, creating plans and executing them, then coping as the plan makes contact with the enemy. Critically, Sanderson’s approach to this trope means that, unlike in, say, The Red Rising series, there is no withholding information from the reader as a way to create artificial surprise or tension. The characters largely know as much about the plan as we do, and the tension arises when those plans go haywire.5

However, when it comes down to it, it’s hard for me to pick a favourite in the series. The first book, Steelheart, is great if only because the plot comes to a clean and satisfying climax that, yes, sets up the next book, but stands neatly on its own.

Firefight, by contrast, is clearly the start of a duology. That’s not to say there isn’t a solid resolution to the core plot of the book–there absolutely is–but the book ends in a cliffhanger setup that makes reading Calamity absolutely mandatory. However, in Firefight the stakes are much bigger, and as a result, the tension is that much more pronounced, which means the Sanderson Avalanche at the end is incredibly satisfying.

Calamity, though, is clearly the weakest of the three, if only because the ending really is weaker than I’m used to expecting from a Brandon Sanderson book.6 Ultimately, the climax, here, felt a bit perfunctory and the explanations thin, leaving as many questions as answers. On the other hand, I will say, I absolutely loved that, once again, in an inversion of the typical trope, superpowers were not the answer to defeating the Big Bad in this book. I just wish the ending worked better than it did.

Now, off the top I mentioned my wife and I listened to the audio versions of these books, and I wanted to throw a quick shout-out to MacLeod Andrews, who did an exceptional job performing these books. He made each of these characters truly come alive with their own unique voices and style7. Mr. Andrews also brought his voice acting chops to the table, throwing in coughs and gasps and other elements where appropriate, which really brought the story to life. If you prefer to listen to books rather than reading them, I can’t recommend Mr. Andrews’ performance enough!

Alright, so that’s it. I hope you enjoyed that, Future Brett!

  1. Cody, in particular, reminds me a lot of Wayne from the second Mistborn trilogy: Cody, with his habit of making up exaggerated stories of his past, and Wayne, the thief who never steals but only trades things. 

  2. I was honestly a bit surprised by the use of this gimmick. Sanderson doesn’t normally fall victim to that trope, but it seems he couldn’t help himself. 

  3. Yeah, David’s fawning over Megan in the first book was pretty painful, but I have to remind myself this is a YA, and teenagers will be teenagers. 

  4. My personal favourite was the nighttime imagery of Babylon Reborn, with its glowing paint and island high-rises. 

  5. In fact, there was one specific moment in the series where one character says to another, paraphrasing (to avoid spoilers), “I think I’ve figured out the answer…”, and my Red Rising PTSD had me assuming that the scene would fade to black and we, the reader, would be left in the dark. Thankfully, Sanderson doesn’t rely on these kinds of cheesy gimmicks. 

  6. And yes, I came to this conclusion on my own before I read reviews from others, though obviously I was curious if other folks felt the same way I did. Answer: yes. 

  7. Though, I gotta say, Mr. Andrews needs to work on that uneven French accent!