As far as ideas for novels go this book has a fairly original concept. The general premise is that some form of possibly natural phenomena has occurred that is generally referred to as `the Calamity'. Over time this has caused certain individuals to manifest various powers. There are certainly parallels to be seen with the `storm' in the programme `Misfits'. But where Sanderson's ideas gain there most originality is in that he sets the events of his novel ten years on from the instigation of super powers where the world has been carved up and ruled over by those that possess these powers. It is a sad outlook for humanity that no one appears to use these powers for good but only for their own selfish gains. What this philosophically says about humanity is probably the highlight of the book.
Like several of Sanderson's novels the story is concentrated within one particular city and almost all the action is city based. The city, Newcago, is envisioned as some type of post-apocalyptic Chicago where the eponymous Steelheart has consolidated his own personal empire. The city is a believable creation with every non-living thing transmogrified into steel, the people living in cramped underground dwellings and the city kept in perpetual darkness by one of Steelheart's lieutenants, Nightwielder. The tense and depressed atmosphere that would be in such a city is readily apparent through the writing.
This is another example of Sanderson's ability to create very believable and fully dimensional worlds. Usually he produces fantasy lands or alternate magical worlds to our own. However, this book offers a possible future for our own modern world. It is every bit as rich and thought out though. Like many of Sanderson's invented worlds it is interesting enough to want to know far more about. Hopefully this will happen in later books.
The small group of leading protagonists are all fairly well characterised but all require more development and growth. The events of this novel are over too short a time for the reader to really get to know them and often they appear to be a little like stereotypes of military or revolutionary figures. Hopefully this will be improved in later books of the series. Certain characters do become immediately more interesting within the closing stages of the novel.
The lead character's use of clumsy metaphors is annoying, however, and distracts a lot from the enjoyment of the story. They seem unnecessary and out of place. They are obviously an effort to provide some light entertainment but this feels wrong considering the serious atmosphere of the book. Although such things would easily be at home in some of Sanderson's other work; just not this one. Overall it's a promising start to a new series.