Calamity (2016) by Brandon Sanderson

Another strong novel in the “Reckoners” series, “Calamity” ultimately worked better than “Firefight” for me because it introduced a lot of new worldbuilding elements, and pushed the series to some new and interesting places. The inclusion of alternate realities and a more heavy science-fiction focuses didn’t feel out of the left field as it had been set-up in the preceding novel, and the novelty of these new elements made the book feel a lot fresher than “Mitosis” and “Firefight” felt compared to “Steelheart”.

While I liked the looser “magic system” we got in “Steelheart”, Brandon does a clever job contextualising the Epic magic system here so that everything eventually makes clear sense. He seems to have dipped into a lot of his typical conventions here that show up in his adult books and not so much his YA ones; lots of discussion of the logic of magic systems, exploration of the moral implications of humans becoming gods (one of his pet obsessions), and a protagonist standing off with a divine figure in an ethical debate about the nature of humanity. This all worked well for me, as I vastly prefer Brandon’s adult books to his YA ones, and I think it was a natural development for the series too.

The ending perhaps lacked closure (the way everything seems to go right for some characters while others seem to be kind of forgotten about at the end is odd, there are huge amounts of worldbuilding info set up in the last few chapters that beg for development, the ending overall feels more flat than an actual series ending), but I knew going into this series that Brandon was developing a sequel series, “The Apocalypse Guard”, set some years after “Calamity”. So none of that really bothered me, as I’ve seen firsthand how deftly Brandon handles sequel series in the same world, in the Mistborn books.

Still, I was bothered by how a character sort of gets a dead figure return to them and everything seemingly be all peaches and cream on that front…maybe it’s just the YA factor and it felt tonally disharmonious to me after the rest of the book was more adult than the preceding novels, but it just felt so detached from any relatable human situation that it didn’t work for me. I can buy superpowers and extensive magic systems, sure, but the idea of alternative universes giving dead people “back” is too loaded to just be satisfyingly dealt with in what feels like a footnote.

Overall, this was another good novel in the series. Perhaps not a great ending, but because I knew from the outset that there would be more books in this universe, I never really viewed it as such. If none of the characters here get any appearance in the sequel series I’ll be disappointed and perhaps think less kindly of this novel, but I’ve seen how Brandon handles bridging different series in the same universe with Mistborn, so I’m pretty confident I’ll eventually be satisfied.

I give it three tensors, and an alternate world.

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