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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.

In 2018, Nauvoo Games released a board game based on the series.

A second trilogy in the same universe, Apocalypse Guard, was planned, then placed on indefinite hold due to writing difficulties. Lux, a follow-up novel co-written with Steven Michael Bohls and featuring a Reckoner cell operating in Texas, was released on July 22, 2021.

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

  • After the End: The books takes place in the "Fractured States", where Epics have rendered the world barely recognizable. Most cities have either been totally destroyed (Portland, Oregon) due to infighting between Epics, or has become a small Fiefdom claimed by an Epic or group of Epics (New York, Chicago, Atlanta). Although not directly stated, it seems the most of the rest of the world is in a similar position, if not worse.
  • A God Am I: Steelheart proclaims himself to be a divinity, and no one is really in much of a position to argue.
  • Arc Words: "Sometimes you have to help the heroes along," 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.
  • Atrocious Alias: All the Epics seem to pick out their own descriptive 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 McCoolname: Most Epics names are 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 explosion related powers who goes by the name Rick O'Shea. As Atrocious Alias points out, they aren't all winners.
  • Bad Powers, Bad People: A major point in the series is that everyone who gets Epic powers is some degree of Evil, but it's hard to come up with benevolent uses for some powers, like Deathpoint's 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. It turns out this is because using 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: All higher level Epics have some 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 using their powers is corrupting. Doing so messes with your head a lot, but as long as it's only a little (or further mitigated by being Gifted away), it can be resisted.
    • An Epic who faces his worst fear is mostly 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 and the Earth. Once he has his Heel Realization and leaves, Epics are no longer corrupted, although is Obliteration shows, they can still choose to use their powers for Evil.
  • 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. Newcago is considered one of the nicest places around because it has electricity and running water.
  • 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. The ability of any given Epic is established with consistent limitations, but they tend to limit information about their powers as much as possible, so there's often incorrect or missing info.
  • Future Slang: "Sparks" and "Calamity" are used as curses. "Slontze" is used as an insult, basically calling someone an idiot.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: Before Calamity, Mitosis used to play in a band called Weaponized Cupcake.
  • Good Powers, Bad People: Epics are evil, even those with "nice" powers like the ability to rapidly grow crops. This is because all Epic powers make you nuts with the exception of "gifting" powers to others mitigating 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.
  • Killing for a Tissue Sample: Justified. The technology that replicates Epic powers comes from dead Epics. It turns out that only a cell culture is needed and it's not strictly required to kill them, but the way Epics are connected to their powers lets them painfully sense when and where it's being used. Given how volatile Epics run, it's safer to kill them first.
  • 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.
    • Calamity expands on this, that the fear is amplified (or in some cases, created) by Calamity as a result of his tie to their powers and general hatred of Earth and humans
  • 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.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • Regalia calls our Prof on being not unlike every other Epic, what with his Underwater Base (in Babilar), his nickname, and his choice of "costume" (his lab coat and goggles in the pocket). Even David seems to admit she has a point.
    • Knighthawk tells David that they share a dangerous fascination with Epics.
  • Shout-Out: A common recurring symbol is a stylized S. Word of God directly stated that this was an intended reference.
  • Smug Super: Epics generally consider themselves superior to ordinary humans, and they aren't shy about talking about it. Higher level Epics are often more or less immune to conventional attack for a number of different reasons (although they still seem to age and die).
  • Super Supremacist: see the entry for Smug Super above.
  • 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.
  • Team Title
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Epics have no concern for others, save for more powerful Epics, and are especially careless with normal humans, ranging from a total lack of patience to killing them for no reason at all. Due to Calamity's influence and hatred of humans, Epic powers cause the user to become more selfish, homicidal and destructive the more they're used, unless the powers are used by 'gifting' them to other people. The effects are also lessened on less powerful Epics, causing them to an experience an increase in selfishness and irritability, but not want actively kill everyone around. Overcoming one's worst nightmare breaks the connection to Calamity and allows an Epic to full claim their powers, using them for good or evil as they like.