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Literature / Calamity

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WARNING: Late Arrival Spoilers abound for Steelheart and Firefight.

Third book in The Reckoners Trilogy.

Following Regalia's successful plot to turn Prof into her successor, the Reckoners are on the run. Jonathan Phaedrus, now known only as Limelight, has destroyed all their cells and safehouses, leaving only David's remaining team. They are underequipped and overwhelmed, so they turn to the only option available to them: Steal from Knighthawk Foundry to get the equipment they need.


Once that job is done, they travel to what was once Atlanta, now Ildithia, the city of salt. Prof has appeared there, following Regalia's plan, aiming to wrest control of the city away from its current master Larcener. Larcener is an exceptionally rare Epic called an assumer, who can steal the powers of other Epics. Furthermore, unlike most assumers, he can steal these powers permanently and hold as many as he wants. The only reason he doesn't rule the world is because he is too lazy to care.

The Reckoners must discover and thwart Prof's plans, try to cure him of Calamity's corruption, and discover the last secrets of the powers, all while surviving in a city that slowly crumbles and rebuilds itself every seven days.


Calamity contains examples of the following tropes:

  • All-Powerful Bystander: Despite having so many powers, Larcener is reluctant to get involved with anything, mostly because he's a Lazy Bum at his core. Actually, it's because he's really Calamity himself, and wants to prove that it is In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves. Not only would getting involved negate his entire point, he's actually not allowed to.
  • Alternate Self: Firefight, Megan's alternate, shows up again, enough that he can actually talk to David. In his universe, David and Prof are dead, but Prof's daughter Tavi has a near-identical powerset. David's father is alive, and is the greatest hero, wielding all of Steelheart's powers.
  • Alien Noninterference Clause: Weird example. Calamity, and beings like him, are created to show up on worlds and grant powers, then leave. Calamity stays because he's curious, but doesn't realize that his very existence (and loathing for humanity) is corrupting and affecting the powers. Once he realizes that humans aren't innately evil and it's been him all along, he breaks down and is forced to leave.
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  • And the Adventure Continues: Prof is saved, David becomes a mighty Epic and is reunited (more or less) with his dead father, and Calamity and his corruption are driven out of the world... and Obliteration is still ready to blow up cities on his own. He's going to destroy Toronto in a week, unless somebody stops him...
  • Angel Unaware: Larcener was Calamity all along.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Ildithia. A moving city of salt may sound cool, but in practice it means that every building is destroyed and rebuilt roughly once a week, which means everyone who lived in said building has to move all their stuff once a week.
  • Big Bad: Calamity, after a fashion. The reason why the Reckoners are so set on pulling a Save the Villain on Prof is so that they can have his help to take on Calamity once and for all.
  • Bittersweet Ending: David manages to convince Calamity that humanity is worthy of the powers that Calamity has given them, causing Calamity to retreat from their dimension. The darkness that has haunted Epics is now gone, allowing them to regain their humanity. However, victory had a high cost. Tia, Exel, and Val are still dead, a fact that Prof will need to live with for the rest of his life. The Fractured States are still divided and in ruins. Countless people have been killed by Epics, many of which have only now snapped out of their Calamity-induced sociopathy and realized what they've done. Stormwind is dead, which means that there are going to be food shortages. The current situation doesn't look good, but there is hope for the future.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Larcener. While he isn't as domineering as other Epics, he makes up for it with his simple inability to understand what normals see in even something as simple as a sunrise. He also constantly makes speeches about the frailty of man, and how willing humans are to give in to their own darkness. It's the first hint that he is actually Calamity.
  • Break Them by Talking: How Calamity is defeated. Or rather, showing him an alternate dimension where he left Earth when he was supposed to, thus proving the inherent evil in humans he believed in was entirely caused by his presence.
  • Censored for Comedy: In-Universe. David keeps his profanity filter on his mobile because he finds the way it modifies language to make others sound hilariously stupid. For example, "didgeridoo" for "spark."
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Conflux has faced his weakness and driven out Calamity's corruption, but he's still a spineless coward with absolutely zero combat training. While he helps the Reckoners when they ask, he politely asks to be given to a powerful Epic who will protect him.
  • Combat Compliment: While fighting Loophole, David realizes she can change the size of bullets as they are hitting her, making her effectively Immune to Bullets. He finds this totally awesome and tells her he is reconsidering categorizing her as a High Epic. She understandably asks what is wrong with him for the mid-fight compliments.
  • The Corruption:
    • The truth behind Calamity's corruption is finally revealed. Calamity is some sort of higher order of being who was born into this world to give the powers and leave humanity to destroy itself. But his home dimension is non-physical, so everything about this one is terrifying to him, from the most mundane lights, sounds, and sensations. All the nightmares Epics have are his nightmares, and when they receive his powers they gain a fear and weakness that matches whatever they were most afraid of. Even if that fear was something minor (such as a mild dislike of dogs), it is blown into a full phobia. By confronting this fear head-on, they are able to conquer it, driving away Calamity and claiming the powers for themselves. Once Calamity leaves the world (like he was supposed to do from the very beginning), the corruption is gone, but the powers are left behind.
    • With Megan finally accepting her powers, with help from David and along with conquering her fear, she is able to obtain greater control over her actions. Once Calamity leaves, it simply becomes a matter of controlling her reality-warping without Calamity's corrupting influence. This even allows her to send David off into the other reality so he can spend lost time with his dad, including the latter teaching David how to use his new Epic powers. Both Prof and even and newly-realized Epic Mizzy are able to use their powers while still retaining their old personalities.
  • Enemy Mine: Larcener turns up at the Reckoners' doorstep because all of his subordinates turned on him in favor of the much more proactive and dangerous Limelight.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Regalia's plan, however brilliant it is, has no chance to succeed. Not even with Prof in charge, since the plan revolves around absorbing Larcener's Epic powers and using them to more or less steal godhood from Calamity himself. Too bad Larcener is Calamity, so stealing his powers is impossible.
  • Foreshadowing: When David visits the alternate universe, Firefight's team are fighting Obliteration's counterpart in their universe. This foreshadows the revelation at the end of the book that Obliteration's crimes are his own choice, not the result of Calamity's influence.
  • Get It Over With: When Prof's weakness has been triggered and he knows he's beaten, but his corruption has not receded, he makes this demand of David. David doesn't do it.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Averted in its PG-rated form. David is a terrible kisser, as Megan keeps cheerfully reminding him. She's perfectly willing to give him more chances to practice, though.
  • The Heavy: Jonathan Phaedrus/Limelight is the main focus of most of the story, but the focus is on a Save the Villain aspect. The real Big Bad is Calamity / Larcener.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: As usual for David's opponents. Loophole sneezes while stuck in a crevasse, causing her to return to her own size while in an area that is much to small for her. The results are not pretty
  • Humans Are Good: David tells Calamity in so many words that without the darkness twisting them into sociopaths, humans—even superpowered ones—are "inherently good." The epilogue shows this to be overstating the case—some people, like Obliteration, don't need any outside influence to be monsters.
  • In the Blood: Tavi and David both have the same powerset as (alternate versions of) their respective fathers.
  • Not Brainwashed: Obliteration overcame Calamity's corruption years ago. The madness that drives him to destroy cities is all him.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: In talking to Calamity, David insists that humans would have been and still are inherently good people with the powers. Megan backs this up by bringing the group to the dimension where it actually was the case. The reason there was a problem in the first place was because Calamity stuck around.
  • Power Copying: Larcener's real power is to permanently take other Epics' powers. Or rather, take back. It doesn't work on Epics who have faced their darkness, which perplexes him.
  • Reality Warper: In the fight beneath Idilithia, Megan finally unlocks the full potential of her powers, constantly changing things to give the Reckoners a better chance.
  • Red Herring: Epic-derived technology needs Epic cells to function, but only enough for a cell culture. A simple blood sample will do. The people who know the secret always demand more in order to disguise how easy it is.
    • Knighthawk makes use of this. He leaves several working but utterly useless pieces of Epic technology in plain sight for robbers to steal. The truly valuable stuff is kept in his fridge hidden inside food containers.
  • The Reveal: Two in quick succession.
    • Prof's weakness isn't his powers; it's failure. Once he admits he can fail even if he tries his best, he'll be free of his powers' corruption. This is shown when he uses the motivator containing some of his powers despite Calamity taking them away from him. This proves that he is willing to give his all despite his fear of failing even when he is at his best.
    • Larcener was Calamity all along.
  • Retconjuration: Megan has a limited and unstable form of this, actually very much like Forgers from The Emperor's Soul. She can alter reality to match a parallel universe, or specific aspects of it, but most of the time the changes are unstable and temporary. The only ones that she can make permanent are those that were likely anyway.
    • Which leads to the hilarious revelation that David, in some very likely alternate universe, was an expert cupcake decorator. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Shout-Out: Ildithia sounds like it might be a Shout-Out to Sanderson's hypothetical Epic form, The Great Salty One.
  • Sizeshifter: Loophole, an Ilidithian Epic, has this ability. She can also alter the size of other people and objects.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: David defeats both Prof and Calamity this way.
  • Troll: Knighthawk, when he gets bored about three-quarters into the book, decides his best option is to incessantly bug David. He says he misses the Internet, where he could have found plenty of stupid comments to laugh about to pass the time.
  • Villainous BSoD: Prof has his when Megan and David force him to admit that he has failed so many ways, causing him first to lose his powers, then to break down into hysterical sobbing.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Calamity/Larcener devolves from a calculating manipulator into a screaming lunatic (however briefly) when Prof, after apparently being Brought Down to Normal, not only regains his powers, but is able to activate the Powered Armor suit powered by said powers, which is supposed to be impossible. He finally accepts it when he realizes that it was his influence corrupting the Epics rather than humanity being inherently evil. He leaves Earth, finally freeing the Epics from enforced corruption.
  • You Are in Command Now: Following Prof's corruption, Tia's disappearance, and the death of pretty much every other high-ranked Reckoner, David is in charge largely because no one else wanted the job. Cody turned it down curtly, Abraham laughed it off, Mizzy started shaking uncontrollably, and Megan wasn't an option since she was still fighting Calamity's corruption.

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