Another day, another Brandon Sanderson review from yours truly. My exploration of the Cosmere took me to the colorful world of Hallandren and Idris, where Breath brings objects to life and political strife could erupt into all-out war. Warbreaker is a Brandon Sanderson novel, all right, and it’s a characteristically excellent one, to boot.
T’Telir, capital of Hallandren, is a colorful seaside city ruled by the God King. The people of Hallandren worship the God King and his disciples, heroes who died and were reborn as gods. These gods, the Returned, are nourished by Breath. Without at least one Breath per week, they will die…again. In nearby Idris, the royal family betrothed one of then king’s daughters to the God King, a peace offering intended to quell tensions caused by the Manywar, which caused Idris’ exile years prior. The two lands are on the brink of a new war, and it could destroy them both.
Sanderson treats us to four perspectives in Warbreaker. First, we have Siri, the youngest daughter of the Idrian king. She is sent to marry the God King and produce an heir in a semantically defiant act against Hallandren. Hallandren had expected to receive the king of Idria’s first-born daughter instead. Vivenna, Siri’s sister, sneaks away to T’Telir to rescue Siri. Vivenna assumed she would be the one to marry the God King, but the last-minute switch left her directionless and fearful for her sister’s life. Then we have Vasher, a mysterious figure making his way to various contacts in T’Telir. Finally, there’s Lightsong, a Returned god unsure of his own divinity, who begins to sniff out the behind-the-scenes machinations that could spark an all-out war between Hallandren and Idris.
I’ve stayed hush-hush with details in my descriptions of each character above, and that’s completely deliberate. They’re all wonderful additions to the inter-Cosmere cast, and I genuinely adore the entire cast. They each enjoy a personal journey fuelled by immense personal growth. Among them, Lightsong is my standout favorite. Watching a bonafide god grapple with his own position of power is a real treat, and his segments showcase the political intrigue that powers much of Warbreaker’s plot. The others are still wonderful, though. Siri grows from a stubborn, wide-eyed rebel to a measured and critical thinker who uses her talents to her every advantage. Vivenna, meanwhile, struggles to balance her privileged upbringing and myopic education with the stark reality of the world she flees to. Suddenly, the lives of Idrian exiles in Hallandren feel real to her, and she learns to cast judgment only if she allows herself to amend it as new information rises. Vasher remains a mysterious figure through much of the book, so I won’t dwell on his arc here. But hoo boy is it fun.
What I appreciate most about Warbreaker—especially on the heels of my first Stormlight outing—is how the character journeys all interlace and lead to a single defining plot. Warbreaker tells a focused story from multiple points of view, and the warring factions are all represented in one way or another. When each character represents the book’s major themes in some way, everything feels cohesive. Vivenna learns to overcome prejudice; Siri opens her mind to education and love; Lightsong pulls at the threads of mystery surrounding the Returned. They all culminate in one of my favorite Sanderlanche endings to date. Everyone has a purpose. Everyone has a piece of the puzzle. And the big picture, only visible once all those pieces come together, is frankly beautiful.
Speaking of beauty, let’s talk about the setting. In my mind’s eye, T’Telir looks like the stunning island of Santorini. Instead of blue and white, the land is caked with explosions of color. The wackier you look, the more you fit in. T’Telir is a perfect locale for Warbreaker and a welcome reprieve from some of Sanderson’s more brutal settings (Luthadel in particular). The colorful locale also sets the stage for the magic system.
I love Sanderson’s magic systems—including this one. But in my humble opinion, I think Warbreaker is his worst thus far. Awakeners can use Breath (which then siphons color from nearby objects) to awaken objects and have them perform rudimentary tasks like grabbing things or wrapping around throats. Conceptually speaking, it’s a fun idea. But in practice, it feels muddled. The rules seem nebulous (even with the aid of the Ars Arcanum at the end), making it hard to understand what an Awakener can or can’t do. I love Sanderson’s rigid magic systems with clear-cut rules and limits. Warbreaker has one. But the rules are hard to understand in context, so it stands out as one of his weaker magical concoctions.
That said, I didn’t really mind at all. Aside from the occasional “huh?” the magic system didn’t make me lose my footing or pull me out of the story. After finishing I wanted more of it, if only to learn the system on a deeper level. The magic of Warbreaker slots neatly into the story at hand. And if that’s the weakest point of the novel, I count it as a massive win either way.
In true Sanderson fashion, Warbreaker throws a cool fantasy world, relatable characters, and an intriguing magic system into a massive cauldron of political intrigue, then stirs until the final product bubbles and boils to an elaborate and colorful climax. Consider Warbreaker a necessary stop along your Cosmere journey. You won’t be disappointed.
Rating: Warbreaker – 10/10