I’ve read most everything that Brandon Sanderson has published now including the two newest Wheel of Time books (reviews here & here), his Mistborn series (reviewed here), his newest Magnum Opus – The Way of Kings (reviewed here) and finally most recently Warbreaker. Eventually I will get to the Elantris series also and will post my thoughts on that one too.
Below I’ll describe the story a little bit as well as the magic system in use in this land/world but simply put … I like Sanderson’s writing. It appeals to me and is easy to read and enjoy. You like his characters and empathize with them in the story which I think is essential for any good author and as we’ve seen in some of Sanderson’s works, he’s not just good … “he’s great!” (as you can tell I’ve had my Frosted Flakes this morning so I’m just channeling my inner Tony the Tiger!).
Warbreaker is basically the story of a land riven in twain by a brutal war fought generations ago. During the course of that war magic was used to animate the undead themselves and it was only through the work of one man that the war was averted.
Instructing the priests of that time that they needed to retain his power for his use in a future time, he departed taking his army with him and was never heard from again. However the land that remained behind was not as it was earlier and the ruling class were exiled to another land.
The Kings and Queens in exile settled in the land of Idris and here they developed and grew a stringent culture, with the emphasis that the magic that had deposed them was not to be used by their people.
The people and priests of Hallendren however went a different way. In combination with the magic that people are able to utilize (explained further below), “people” were returned after their death to this world. The people of Hallendren worshiped these “returnees” as gods and fed them breath (explained below) to sustain them and give them power in exchange for their visions and knowledge of what was on the other side of the veil. Basically as per the mythology the returnees have come back because the saw “something” on the other side and they need to help/prevent whatever will happen. A whole pantheon of gods were thus “born” and maintained in comfort and splendor in Hallendren. The leader of this pantheon was a God King who received 2 breaths every week – 1 to sustain and one to further empower him. These God Kings had also bequethed their abundance of breath to each of their decendants over the years leaving the current God King with a monsterous amount of power.
Conflict is a brewing however between the peoples of Idris and Hallendren. The people of Idris feel themselves to be the deposed rightful rules of the land, whereas the Hallendren think of them as simple rebels needing to be deposed of. Our story starts with the travel to Hallendren from Idris of a royal princess, fated to marry the God King by treaty in an effort to avert the war that all know is inevitable.
Warbreaker actually has quite a large cast of characters involved in the story, however there are a couple of “main” characters that really drive the story along.
A princess of Idris, Siri is the youngest daughter of the King of that land. As per the treaty between Idris and Hallendren, a daughter of the royal line is required to go to hallendren to marry the God King and thereby legitamize the changes in rulership since the Manywar. Siri was actually not the princess that was meant to go, rather it was her older sister Vivenna that was to be God Kings bride, however the King of Idris could not bear to part with Vivenna and thought that he could finagle the contract between the realms by sending Siri instead. Siri is a very flighty young girl at the beginning of th book but she gradually grows up and learns that not everything in Hallendren is what it seems.
Siri’s older sister, Vivenna was trained since birth to be the God Kings wife and to represent the interests of Idris in the land of Hallendren. However as it grew close to the time of her departure, her father realized that he could not bear to part with her and sent Siri in her stead. Vivenna deprived of her lifelong purpose set off in pursuit of Siri with the intent of rescuing her from Hallendren and returning her to her home and safety.
One of the returned Gods, Lightsong is a god that does not believe in his own divinity and is constantly challenging his priests. Lightsong has visions of an epic battle and deaths amongst the Gods themselves and while he is known as Lightsong the Brave, he has neither the skill or inclination to prove this bravery in any way. Lightsong is one of 4 Gods granted the power to control the army of Lifeless that hallendren control.
A mysterious character, Denth is a mercenary in the city of Hallendren. Vivenna utilizes his skills and contacts in order to forment rebellion amongst the local Idris people living in the slums of Hallendren. Denth is extremely well skilled with a sword and very knowledable about the power of Awakening, its use and limitations.
Probably one of the most interesting characters of the story, Vasher unfortunately gets limited page time, however when he shows up, generally all hell breaks lose! Vasher carries with him a magical sword – Nightblood – that definitely seems to have a mind of its own and he is opposed to Denth and whatever it is Denth is doing. Vasher is extremely well skilled in the use of Breath and Awakening and some of the commands he is able to utilze seem to be impossible.
The Science of the Magic
Breath literally is life in this world – the Returned Gods need a new breath each week simply to survive and as regular humans acquire breath their power expands also. A person can “trade” their breath to another and while it needs to be voluntary for those with little or no other options, sometimes this is the only option to survive.
When you give up your breath to another, you become a “drab” and everything in the world around you seems just a little bit more dull and lifeless, however for those who acquire breath the opposite is true – such as perfect pitch, perfect color recognition, perfect life recognition, and agelessness – and the more that you acquire the more you can do. Once you have enough breath in fact you can use it “awaken” objects and by giving them simple commands use these objects to assist you, however the simple act of awakening something reduces the amount of breath remaining for other tasks and in fact those with Breath can be identified by the aura they give of.
In this world, the magic system is called BioChromancy as it is not just breath that gives power but color also. When something is awakened the color is drawn from other items around that awakened object to help power it. The less colorful an object is, the harder it is to use BicoChromancy on it.
Just as in Mistborn and The Age of Kings, Brandon Sanderson has developed another magical system that has its own rules and laws and they just work. Nothing is too far fetched in relatio to the storyline and it all flows really well.
As stated earlier, Warbreaker is a good book. The writing is fun and easy to get into, not stilted in any way. The humour (and there is lots of it) sprinkled throughout the book suits the characters and their motivations – including Nightblood who is AWESOME! – and how the story progresses including the ulitimate resolution is really well handled. I have to be honest, most TV shows, books and Movies I can see the twist coming well before the end, but with Warbreaker I was honestly surprised at who the villian really was and how they were handled, created and conceived.
I liked the characters, the story and the magic – really i can’t find anything significant to fault with this book aside from the fact that is a stand alone tome and I don’t get to read more about what happens to my favorite characters!
I’d give this book 4.5 stars out of 5. Get a copy in your local bookshop and give it a read – if you like fantasy and intrigue you won’t be disappointed!