Even a casual observer of my blog’s tag cloud will notice a pronounced disparity between the name Brandon Sanderson and all the other authors whom I’ve listed. This is primarily due to the timing of when I started my blog; Warbreaker is the seventh book by Brandon Sanderson I have read since I first met him in 2006. It is fitting therefore that my 100th post should happen to be about the latest release from one of my favorite authors, the world making and breaking Brandon Sanderson.
As big of a fan as I am, I chose not to read Warbreaker as it was made available on Sanderson’s website. I’m not a fan of reading on a computer screen, so I waited for the recent release of the handsome hard cover from the publisher Tor, and I’m glad I did. I own all of Sanderson’s books thus far in hard cover, so I would have bought it anyway, even if I had read it in its digital format at no charge. For more on why Sanderson decided to post the book as he worked on it, refer to the author’s explanation.
For more on the book itself, here goes: one of the things I like the most about Sanderson’s books is the practically-based magic systems he devises. In Warbreaker the system is known as BioChromatic Breath, a combination of color and life force that is transferable from person to person or person to organic object. I found this magic system harder to buy into than those used in his other books, although it does provide some spectacular imagery and terrific plot twists, two of the other elements I find so enjoyable in Sanderson’s writing. Initially I wasn’t really drawn in by the main characters, but that changed as they did in the progression of the story. Vivenna and Siri are sister princesses from Idris, a conservative country that broke away from Hallandren, the seat of power and those segments of society corrupted by power. Hallandren is ostensibly ruled by Susebron the God King, a man who Returned from death as a divinity endowed with so much BioChromatic Breath that he poses a threat to his own kingdom. Under his auspices the kingdom is actually run by groups of priests who ensure that he and the other Returned like him are kept occupied by indolence and indulgence. In order to perpetuate their means of governance the priests must see to it that the God King produces an heir, preferably one from the royal lineage that broke away and founded Idris. As stipulated by a treaty, the king of Idris must send his daughter to wed the God King and become the Vessel for his heir. It does not indicate which of his three daughters he must send, however.
Vivenna has been trained in court politics and etiquette all her life in preparation for this union, but imminent war between Idris and Hallandren causes her father to reconsider. In her place he sends Siri, the youngest and most free willed of his daughters to submit herself to the God King. This sister switch upsets the balance of the Court of the Gods and pushes the two countries closer to war rather than uniting them together. Lightsong the Bold, one of the Returned who does not believe in his own divinity, further upsets the balance by trying to undermine his own reputation of uselessness, and everything topples with the reappearance of the mysterious Vasher and his baneful black blade Nightblood.
In some respects Warbreaker is the antithesis of Elantris, Sanderson’s first published book, in which godhood has become corrupted into a curse. Here we have a pantheon of powerless gods living a privileged life where sacrificing their own BioChromatic Breath, their own life force, is the only true power they wield. As in Elantris, a complex religious structure and a seemingly inaccessible magic system combine with traumatized yet undaunted characters to yield a satisfying surprise solution to a masterfully perplexing entanglement. Unlike Elantris, this does have a serialized feel to it owing to the way it was released, reviewed, and revised through his website and lacks some of the depth I have come to expect from a Brandon Sanderson novel.