Published: 2011 by Gollancz
Format: Paperback, 652 pages
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Warbreaker is the story of two sisters, who happen to be princesses, the God King one of them has to marry, the lesser god who doesn’t like his job, and the immortal who’s still trying to undo the mistakes he made hundreds of years ago.
Their world is one in which those who die in glory return as gods to live confined to a pantheon in Hallandren’s capital city and where a power known as BioChromatic magic is based on an essence known as breath that can only be collected one unit at a time from individual people.
By using breath and drawing upon the color in everyday objects, all manner of miracles and mischief can be accomplished. It will take considerable quantities of each to resolve all the challenges facing Vivenna and Siri, princesses of Idris; Susebron the God King; Lightsong, reluctant god of bravery, and mysterious Vasher, the Warbreaker.
Brandon Sanderson frequently comments that he intended Warbreaker and Elantris to dovetail: examining the same issues but dealing with them differently. I read Warbreaker with his intent in mind, and think it does indeed go well with the story-line of Elantris. It is an earlier work of Sanderson’s (pre Mistborn), so the writing isn’t what I have come to expect from him, but none the less, Sanderson dishes up an intriguing magic system, well crafted characters, and proves that he is one of the best world builders in modern Fantasy writing.
Warbreaker follows two Idrian princesses: Siri, who marries Halladren’s God King in order to prevent war between the two kingdoms, and her sister Vivenne, who seeks to rescue Siri from this horrible fate. They are quickly caught up in the schemes of forces that seek to instigate a war between Idris and Halladren, and are both confronted on many fronts on their personal beliefs and prejudices. I like Siri – while Sanderson painted her as impulsive and emotional, I agree that she is a much better choice for the task of marrying the God King than Vivenne, who would not have survived a week in her place. Vivenne, on the other hand, proved difficult to like, mainly because of her adamant refusal to try and understand the people she had come to live amongst. It took some harsh lessons for her to let go of her arrogance and see that all people deserve respect and care. The other characters in the book are just as vivid and interesting, in particular the two Returned Gods Lightsong and Blushweaver, and the shadowy Vasher.
The concept of the Returned is especially intriguing: the idea that certain people are picked, at death, to Return to life and help guide the Hallderan people as their Gods. In Elantris, the so-called Gods had been stripped of their power and suffered from a dilapidating plague, but in this book they shine with glory. The magic system is also commendable – ethereal matter, Breathe, is imbued into an object to give it life, which allows it to act according to Commands. Usually people are born with one breathe, but some individuals can be born with more, or can acquire Breathe from others, creating a power-based hierarchy with the most powerful, the Returned, on top.
In terms of plot, Sanderson’s writing is quite strong. The first big reveal took me by surprise, and although the second didn’t, I still think the book is well paced and plotted and definitely engaging. Sanderson has a tendency to over-explain throughout the novel, however, using Siri and Vivenna’s ignorance as a mask, and this does make the two girls seem less intelligent than they are intended to be, in my opinion. But even without the context of knowing where this novel stands within Sanderson’s impressive works, it is obvious that the talent to write exceptionally is there – it just needs to be polished!
Sanderson has delivered an impressive book in Warbreaker, and I am proud to say that I have now read all his published original works (I haven’t read the Wheel of Time books he has written). Fans of Sanderson are encouraged to pick this book up, but those new to his works are probably best off beginning with the Mistborn trilogy and then working backwards through Elantris and Warbreaker, before moving on to The Alloy of Law and The Way of Kings.