This review contains SPOILERS. Proceed with caution if you have not read this book yet!
I first read Calamity by Brandon Sanderson (the third book in the Reckoners trilogy) in December 2017. This review was originally posted on my Goodreads account. Some minor edits have been made to this review.
What is it with young adult dystopia trilogies? The first one is always really strong, the second one is okay but weaker than the first, and the third is just… problems. Why is that?
So Calamity is essentially David and co. trying to restore the heart of Te Fiti… I mean, Prof. Same thing. Kind of. Anyway.
On Goodreads, I’ve rated this book the same as Firefight, but that’s a little deceptive. I think I liked Firefight slightly more than Calamity, but only marginally. That said, my rating here is a bit more reflective of that subtle difference, in a way I don’t find possible as much on a five-star rating system (I prefer ten to be more specific).
First of all, as I mentioned in my review of Steelheart, David is a pretty generic teen protagonist. He sounds like basically every other boy protag in the genre, just with more bad similes. Secondly, the other characters feel like watered-down versions of other Sanderson characters (the most obvious example is Cody, who strikes me as a rough draft of Wayne from Mistborn era 2). In fact, even the plot seems less vivid and thought-out than most of Sanderson’s works. I can’t figure out why; I know this guy can write exceptionally well. This trilogy, to me, just wasn’t up to his usual standards.
Speaking of characters, I wish — as I did in Firefight — that the death of characters made me feel something more. When Tia died, I mostly reacted like “oh man, that’s unfortunate” but not with shock or grief. Her death felt pointless and not moving. Even David and Megan barely dwelled on it. I know they had a lot going on, but still. It was similar to how I felt about Val and Exel dying in the previous book; I just hadn’t been given the chance to really connect to them.
Re Megan, while she’ll never be in the running for the most amazing female character ever, I do think her superpower is cool, if a little confusing and vaguely explained. Also, the whiplash decision of hers to accept and embrace her powers, while an important and pivotal choice, felt sudden and not entirely convincing. She went, in the span of about a chapter, from being terrified and sick of her powers, to snatching them back from Larcener with a fury and declaring herself suddenly in total control. It just felt too fast.
Last on the list of negatives (Sanderson, why did I have to have a list at all???), I had way too many questions upon finishing this book. I feel as though I should not have to google what happened to understand it, and yet here I am (*opens Google in next tab over*). Why don’t we get an explanation for why the diggers in Newcago went mad? What happened with David’s powers/how exactly did he get them? Is everyone an Epic now? What does the S for the Faithful movement stand for? Did Calamity actually die? Why did the end feel sudden and baffling? And why were there what I felt to be way fewer metaphors in this one?!
Anyway, despite my general dissatisfaction, there are good things about this book. First the main plot really keeps you invested if you care about Prof at all; you really want to see David succeed in turning him back to the good side. The pacing was better than in Firefight, though not perfect. Calamity‘s pacing at times had the opposite problem book 2 had: whereas Firefight had serious lagging issues in the middle, the last third of so of Calamity feels rushed. There’s not time for a breather, really, between the party at Sharp Tower to the final showdown, and no time to touch base with the secondary characters or to mourn Tia. It’s all go, go, go, which is exciting but also feels TOO fast.
… I guess that last paragraph was a bit of a pro and a con at the same time. Well, I’d rather have a book slightly rushed in sections than so slow I’m almost getting bored (looking at you, Firefight).
I didn’t see the plot twist with Larcener coming (because of course I didn’t), so that was cool. And the last few chapters were intense in a very good way. Overall, this book and the trilogy as a whole would be easy to recommend to middle- and high-schoolers who are getting into fantasy, but if an established fan of the author or of Tolkien-esque “high fantasy” asks about it, I would tell them to keep their expectations a bit lower for this one.
Overall rating: 6.5/10