Warbreaker – review

Well, well, well, Brando Sando’s done it again. Brimming with life, color, politics, magic, and twists, Warbreaker is yet another testament to Sanderson’s mastery of the fantasy genre. I was hooked from the first line, and though it took a minute for the plot to really take off, once it did, the flight was epic.

So, let’s start with characters, because I don’t want to spoil too much:

We have Vivenna, the eldest daughter of the King of Idris. Proper, composed, and restrained, she has grown up knowing she would one day marry the God King of Hallandren, as a peace offering to keep their two countries from going to war.

Then there’s Siri, the youngest of the King of Idris’s four children. She had always flown under the radar, knowing she isn’t considered as politically significant as her siblings, and she is very much a free spirit who just wants to do her own thing.

Meanwhile, in Hallandren, we have Lightsong, a Returned–that is, a man who came back from death and is now considered a god. Though he is the god of bravery, Lightsong outwardly tries to be as lazy as possible and internally grapples with self-doubt and a lack of faith in his own divinity.

Finally, there is Susebron, the God King himself. I won’t say too much about him, because his development is complex and fascinating and full of a couple twists that shouldn’t be spoiled.

Lurking in the background is Vasher, a mysterious fellow who is rough around the edges but a highly skilled Awakener, travelling with his hilarious (and horrifying) talking sword, Nightblood.

And along with some mercenaries (Denth, Tonk Fah, Jewels), some manipulative gods (Blushweaver), an assortment of priests (Treledees, Llarimar), a scribe (Bluefingers), and a motley assortment of others, Sanderson’s tale unfolds.

Our story begins when the King of Idris decides that he can’t stand to lose Vivenna to the God King, who he believes to be a monster. Instead, he sends Siri to wed the man that all of Idris considers an abomination. Overcome by worry about her sister, Vivenna decides to break the rules for the first time in her life, and sneaks off to Hallandren to rescue Siri from Susebron. But as Siri begins to navigate the treacherous waters of palace life, she finds that not all gods are evil, not all priests are innocent, and there is far more at stake than she ever realized.

Meanwhile, Lightsong the Bold lives in the Pantheon of Hallandren, regarded as a god for reasons beyond his control. Much as he doubts his own divinity, though, he still tries to be a good man, and when the goddess Blushweaver gets him to realize that Hallandren and Idris are racing head-on toward war, he finally finds something resembling a purpose. After all, what are gods good for, if not to help their people?

There is so much more to the plot than this, but I can’t get into it without spoiling things. Honestly, the blurb on the book jacket spoiled a few small things for me, which I was upset about, so I’m trying my hardest to not do that for you!

The entire world of this novel is delightful.While many novels take place in European-inspired cities, Warbreaker is set in an exotic, tropical world full of bright color, vibrant clothing, and spicy food. Though there is an undercurrent of religious fanaticism in some areas, as a whole it feels a tad more modern in its social conventions and city structures. Heck, there are even restaurants! There are several major religions at play, sharing some major tenets and disagreeing on others, and the whole land has an elaborately fleshed-out history full of its own mythology. (As a bonus, for Cosmere fans, much of that history is told in a stellar cameo by our favorite world-hopper, Hoid! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry; it’s more of an Easter egg than anything and won’t impact your enjoyment whatsoever.)

The fact that the world is so colorful is quite fitting, given that its magic system of BioChromatic Breath relies on color for fuel. As in his other Cosmere books, Sanderson has created a type of magic not quite like anything I’ve read before. While the rules are complex, the gist is that every person is born with one Breath. At any time, via simple command, you can give all of your Breath to another person. If you have enough Breaths, you gain certain abilities–perfect pitch, for example–and can potentially learn to Awaken inanimate objects, bestowing an iten with some of your Breath so that it can act of its own accord. It is a system that allows all individuals to have a stake in the “game” of magic, yet also creates its own social hierarchy when people sacrifice their Breaths to gods or pass Breaths down throughout generations of a family. And given that Awakening is rooted in concentration and connection, there is a spiritual and personal element to it as well. In other words, it does all the things a magic system should do, and Sanderson fleshes out all of its nuances. Even the details he doesn’t get a chance to cover in the text are elaborated on in the annotations, which I highly recommend reading once you’re done with the book if you want a bit more on this world and Sanderson’s writing process!

And of course, you know me: I love characters.I especially love when those characters grow and change and respond realistically to their world, and man, that is such a huge part of this book. In his annotations, Sanderson mentions several times that one of his major goals in writing this book was the theme of reversals and inversions, and the writing makes it abundantly clear that he succeeds. Characters pull complete 180s, discovering strengths that seem antithetical to their personalities, outgrowing prejudices, finding new things to believe in, and learning that their old opinions may not have been quite right. The floor gets pulled out from under you at least three times (if not more) when you realize a character is not at all who you thought they were, yet every twist makes so much sense in retrospect that you question how you could have missed it. I live for the twists of character, especially since they feed into the plot twists and frantic action that Brandon Sanderson is known for–including the so-called “Brandon Avalanche,” the final one-third of basically any of his books where suddenly all the plotlines intersect, the shit hits the fan, and everything is glorious chaos that you can’t put down.

Some people will say the start of this book is a little slow. They are not wrong. But that slow start lays necessary groundwork that propels the rest of the story forward so that the ending can hit you with as much force as possible. If you struggle with the beginning, try to stick it out. Things will drastically change, and the payoff is worth your initial investment.

All things considered, I probably could have told you this was a five-star read by the time I was a little past halfway through, because I love everything Brandon does, but I can safely say that, after closing the last page, it earned all of those stars.Perhaps he is an Awakener himself–he certainly managed to make these pages come alive.

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