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Literature / The Reckoners Trilogy

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The Reckoners Trilogy is a series by Brandon Sanderson, set not in his usual universe (The Cosmere), but 20 Minutes into the Future in a devastated Earth. Ten years ago, people started gaining superpowers— but there are no superheroes. The supers are called Epics, and they are invariably evil, violent, and power-hungry. Because they can't be effectively resisted, the United States government has declared them officially above the law, and the fiefdoms of powerful Epics have replaced most of the territory of the US.


The first book, Steelheart, was released in September 2013. The second book, Firefight, was released in January 2015. The third and final book, Calamity, was released in February 2016.

A short story, Mitosis (taking place between Steelheart and Firefight) is available for digital download from Sanderson's website.

Snapshot is a story in the same universe (taking place sometime after Calamity) unconnected to the trilogy.

A second trilogy in the same universe, Apocalypse Guard, is planned, although it is currently on hold due to writing difficulties.

Nauvoo Games offers a board game based on the series.


The series as a whole contains examples of the following tropes:

  • After the End: By the time the first book proper takes place, Epics have rendered the world barely recognizable. Portland, Oregon, is a wasteland due to infighting between Epics, and numerous little fiefdoms have been carved out of the world.
  • A God Am I: Epics generally consider themselves superior to ordinary humans, and they aren't shy about talking about it. Steelheart takes things a step further by outright proclaiming himself to be a divinity, with every indication he believes it.
  • Arc Words: "Sometimes you have to help the heroes along." This was the last thing David's father said to him before he died. Over the course of the series, David searches finds the relevance of the statement to his own evolving view of the world and his role in it.
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  • Atrocious Alias: Some Epics chose the stupidest names. As David puts it, "Incredible cosmic powers do not equate with high IQ, or even a sense of what is dramatically appropriate." Examples include the Pink Pinkness (say it five times fast), Insulation, El Bullish Brass Dude, and Instabam.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: All the Epics seem to pick out their own descriptive names. Most of them are literally descriptive of them or their powers (Deathpoint, Nightwielder), though some of them have a bit of fun with it, such as the Irish Epic with gun-related powers who goes by the name... Rick O'Shea. Of course, as Atrocious Alias points out, they aren't all winners.
  • Bad Powers, Bad People: Even given that Epics are pretty much all Bad People, it's hard to come up with benevolent uses for many of their powers, like the ability to kill people by pointing at them.
  • Beware the Superman: Every superpowered person is evil, with few arguable exceptions. Conflux and Prof are the nicest ones in the first book, and it's stated this is because they give away most of their power on a regular basis. Justified, because the powers themselves make the users into selfish, evil people.
  • Cape Busters: The Reckoners.
  • Cast From Sanity: Prof is very careful to limit the direct use of his powers, because of this trope. He becomes increasingly arrogant and What Measure Is a Non-Super? the more he uses it, unless he spends an extended time period avoiding use of his power. Most Supers in the setting don't know about this fact, and are by now beyond caring.
  • Combo Platter Powers: Most of the higher level Epics have powers with no obvious connection to each other. Steelheart's invulnerable body and ability to transform non-living matter to steel are thematically parallel, but what about his wind control and energy beams? Or Conflux's electricity powers and his transference ability? Or Firefight's illusions and her self-resurrection ability? It is actually a plot point that one Epic doesn't have some weird unrelated power: the illusory Firefight is uncovered by David as a fake partly because he is "too generic" of a Fire Epic, using powers they generally tend to have, and no additions.
  • The Corruption: Everyone who has Epic powers seems to be evil. Turns out that the powers themselves are benign; it's using them that's corrupting. Doing so, even a little, messes with your head, but as long as its a little, it can be resisted.
    • An Epic who faces his worst fear is immune to the corruption.
    • Ultimately subverted; it's Calamity that corrupts people, due to using his gifts exposing people to his subconscious psionic influence to reshape them into his mental image of humans. Once he has his Heel Realization and leaves, Epics are no longer corrupted.
  • Crapsack World: As you might expect from a world with supervillains and no corresponding superheroes. Most of our world's infrastructure, culture, and technology were lost in the chaos when the Epics first arose; ordinary people live either as scavengers in the wastelands or under the tyranny of Epics in the cities.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: From Firefight:
    I hadn't been a nerd, mind you. I'd just been the type of guy who spent a lot of time by himself, focused entirely on a single consuming interest.
  • Functional Magic: It's repeatedly pointed out that Epic powers have little to no relation to the laws of physics as science knows them. So David and the other Reckoners study it to make their own theories.
  • Future Slang: "Sparks" and "slontze".
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: Before Calamity, Mitosis used to play in a band called Weaponized Cupcake.
  • Good Powers, Bad People: All Epic powers make you nuts, even the "nice" ones like a Healing Factor. Only "gifting" powers to others can reduce the corruptive influence.
    • Bad Powers, Bad People: Of course, Epics can get rather clear-cut evil powers, such as Deathpoint. Even if Epic powers didn't cause insanity, it's hard to imagine Deathpoint could have been a hero.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Calamity, the force that grants Epics their powers and drives them to murderous insanity, is a conscious entity.
  • Kryptonite Factor: Every Epic is said to have one, though it's not always clear what they are, nor are they necessarily easy to exploit. David is the only person who has even a clue about Steelheart's, because Steelheart murdered everyone else who witnessed the one time he was injured. The events of Mitosis imply that the origin of the weakness has something to do with who or what the Epic was before gaining powers, as Mitosis' weakness was music from a band he used to play in - as the only classically trained musician in the band, he despised the songs written by his colleagues, which basically consisted of four riffs and not much else.
    • Firefight reveals that an Epic's weakness is based on whatever they most fear. Sourcefield, for example, is vulnerable to Kool-Aid because her grandparents tried to poison her with it. Megan is vulnerable to fire because she almost burnt to death.
  • Magic-Powered Pseudoscience: Much of the post-Calamity world's more advanced technology was developed by studying Epic powers (or rather, harnessing Epic powers using tissue samples from the bodies of dead Epics).
  • Mass Super-Empowering Event: People began to manifest Epic powers about a year after a mysterious red light, "Calamity", appeared in the sky.
  • Serial Numbers Filed Off: A common recurring symbol is a stylized S.
  • Supernatural Elite: Epics have toppled the government and claimed the right to rule over ordinary people, unbound by any law. The more powerful an Epic is, the higher their social status tends to be.
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  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Due to Calamity's influence, Epic powers cause the user to become more homicidal and destructive the more they're used. The effect can be mitigated by 'gifting' the powers to a large number of people. The effects are also less destructive the less powerful the Epic is, e.g. they may experience an increase in selfishness and irritability, but not want to kill everyone who blinks at them funny. Overcoming Your Worst Nightmare breaks the connection to Calamity, and from then on completely averts this trope.