Novella Review: Snapshot

Snapshot
Note: If you like the cover art, Howard Lyon, the artist, has a cool process post and additional pictures here.

Disclaimer: I was a beta reader for this novella. My name is in the acknowledgments. My review may not be entirely unbiased.

From Goodreads:

Snapshot is a Science Fiction detective story following Anthony Davis, a cop assigned to Snapshot Duty. In this vivid world that author Brandon Sanderson has built, society can create a snapshot of a specific day in time. The experiences people have, the paths they follow—all of them are real again for a one day in the snapshot. All for the purposes of investigation by the court.

Davis’s job as a cop on Snapshot Duty is straight forward. Sometimes he is tasked with finding where a criminal dumped a weapon. Sometimes he is tasked with documenting domestic disputes. Simple. Mundane. One day, in between two snapshot assignments, Davis decides to investigate the memory of a call that was mysteriously never logged at the precinct, and he makes a horrifying discovery.

As in all many stories, Snapshot follows a wonderfully flawed character as he attempts to solve a horrific crime. Sanderson proves that no matter the genre, he is one of the most skilled storytellers in the business.

Snapshot is a novella, which means that it’s super short. At least, for the kind of books I like to read, it’s short. According to my Kindle, the whole thing can be read in an hour and a half. I definitely recommend reading works this short in a single sitting, because it really is one cohesive story, one single plot, and you’ll miss details if you take breaks. So if you want to read it, set aside the time to read it all at once, if you can. Also, read the Acknowledgments when you’re done. 🙂

Short doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot here, however. Snapshot is packed full of exciting moments, creepy thrills, and stunning twists. Sanderson is an expert at always keeping you unbalanced, guessing, unsure of what will happen next. There is never a boring moment in the book, and once you pick it up, it’s easy to just keep reading, to want to read just one more chapter, just one more, and suddenly, it’s done.

There are several plot twists here, and Sanderson’s ability to pack them into something this short amazes me. As with many of his books, there are bits that you will figure out ahead of time, but I guarantee there are also events that you won’t see coming. I hate it when, in a book that is about the twist, you can figure out the twists far ahead of time, and have the ending all plotted out in your head before it happens. I was super glad to find that Snapshot defied these expectations, in many ways making it feel like a full Sanderson novel.

The novella is based on a really cool idea, too, as with almost all of Sanderson’s novellas. In Snapshot, we’re asked what would happen if you could recreate a day at will, jump into it, do whatever, and leave again, with no consequences in the real world. Sanderson explores this through the lens of criminal investigations – what would the police do with this technology? It’s a fascinating question, and while his answers are only one possibility out of many, they are very interesting and thought-provoking.

As a side note, the setting is tangentially in the Reckonerverse, but you’ll only recognize this if you’re reading closely, as it’s only really hinted at in one or two paragraphs and is relevant only to the worldbuilding and not really the plot itself. If you are expecting more David and Megan, more Prof and Tia, more bad metaphors and gun nuts, you’ll be disappointed. Well, okay. Not about the gun nut part. But the rest of it. On the flip side, if you’ve never read the Reckoners books, you’re perfectly fine reading this at any time, because it won’t spoil any of that for you! (You really should read them, though.)

For all that, on the surface, Snapshot is a popcorn read, and a fun quick thrill ride, it presented a lot of interesting ideas about morality and reality that I am still pondering, several months after I first read it. When nothing is real, what is it okay to do? What is considered “wrong” in this case? How would you act? While It may not be quite as good at asking deep questions as The Emperor’s Soul was, Snapshot is a really good novella that handles the massive number of things that it is trying to do really well, and I absolutely loved it.

In summary, Snapshot is a quick, fun read, and when you can set aside an hour and a half, or maybe two hours, depending on your reading speed, you really should pick it up and read it all the way through. It is full of plot twists, cool worldbuilding, and somehow also manages to use this worldbuilding to ask some really interesting questions that I’m still not sure if I have an answer to. I give it five of five stars (but I may be slightly biased as a beta reader), and really think you should pick it up soon.

Note: While you can’t really get a physical copy right now (Vault Books is sold out, and the con exclusive is still con exclusive. I believe those’ll be available on Sanderson’s store sometime in November.), you can pick up the e-book for cheap right now at a variety of places.

Sanderson’s page with more info.

Goodreads.

Book Review: Steelheart

steelheart

From Goodreads:

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics…nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart – the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning – and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

Most people know Brandon Sanderson as the magic system guy, or as the guy who writes massive, 400,000 page tomes. He’s the Mistborn guy, or the guy who finished the Wheel of Time.

Yes, he has done all of those things in his short (<10 years) career, and he has done so much more. Sanderson, some people seem to forget, has written outside of his Cosmere. He’s written at the very least, YA, Middle Grade, sci-fi, and tech-thrillers. And he’s done all of those things incredibly well. Steelheart is the first book in his second YA series, and I loved it.

Steelheart is a post-apocalyptic YA action-adventure super-villain story. Many people complain about the post-apocalyptic/dystopian market being saturated… but they’re complaining about the copy-cats, the long lists of books that are all essentially the same, often even using the same characters with different names.

Steelheart is not like those books. Steelheart is a breath of fresh air into the field, with all of Sanderson’s trademark elements.

He’s got a brilliant, diverse cast of characters. The Reckoners, Tia, Prof, Abraham, Cody, and Megan, are all fun and unique, each in their own way. My favorite is probably Cody, and his constant insistence on silly things, like the magical little men living inside devices that make them run, and his ever-changing list of claimed inheritances/nationalities.

But that’s not to forget the main character, David. David could easy have become a blank, revenge-coated slate. I mean, it would have been awesome for him to say, “Hello. My name is David Charleston. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” But that’s not all of who he is. He is a nerd of the highest order, researching epics and their weaknesses, giving us someone the nerd inside all of us can utterly relate to, and a brilliant way to info-dump without being boring the reader. He’s a gun nut, and has a very personal relationship with his weapons. He also makes the most horrible metaphors. Ever. And they’re so crazy you can’t help but laugh. I love David. He’s not a flawless hunk of man-meat, single-mindedly destroying villains. He’s a real person with all kinds of quirks who wants to see things set right in the world that has collapsed around him. He is the hero I would want to be, if I ever travelled into a book.

Sanderson also has his trademark magic-system feel with the epics, the evil super-villains that David so carefully categorizes and the Reckoners are determined to kill. Sanderson’s invented an impressive set of powers and names—no mean feat in a world already full of comic book superheroes and supervillains. And yet, we don’t quite know how they got their powers, or why only the evil people get them. This is one of the driving forces of the book, and I don’t want to spoil it for you.

And the plot is driven, all the way through. Sanderson’s adult novels are sometimes criticized for being slow and boring. The first one or two, perhaps, are, though I feel in general that the criticism is unfounded. Luckily, there’s no way that anyone could make this criticism about Steelheart. It’s one heck of a ride, stuffed full of adrenaline filled fight scenes and tense moments. But, unlike so many other YA books I have read, it does not get lost in these moments, the drive for a plot that keeps you turning the page. The characters, the real story of the whole thing… That is never lost among the scenes. Ever scene, every action, is integral to the plot and they are all put together in a way that makes perfect sense.

In summary, Steelheart’s a fast, intense, adrenaline-filled read, appropriate for both YA and adult audiences, with an incredibly cast of characters, another trademark Sanderson magic system, and some very bad metaphors. Everyone should go read and enjoy this great book. Five of Five stars.

Before I give links, I’ll conclude this review with a quote from Patrick Rothfuss’ (If you haven’t read Name of the Wind, you… need to fix that.) review of Steelheart.

Why? Well, because Brandon writes so much faster than me. It only seems fair that some of his stuff should be crap. It just doesn’t seem fair that he’s brilliant AND fast….

Unfortunately for my ego, Steelheart is another win for Sanderson, proving that he’s not a brilliant writer of epic fantasy, he’s simply a brilliant writer. Period.

Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart on Amazon

Steelheart on Goodreads