Sunday, October 25, 2009

Warbreaker: My Favorite Fantasy of the Year

Posted by Simcha 8:12 AM, under | 3 comments

Brandon Sanderson is gaining recognition for masterfully creating imaginative worlds of fantasy populated by vibrant characters and unique systems of magic. And while I have enjoyed his previous books, including Elantis and the Mistborn series, it is in Warbreaker that Sanderson truly excels.

Warbreaker introduces a world in which there is magic in color and people with enough Breath can access this magic to animate objects or even bring the dead to life. In the city of Hallandren Breath is bartered and sold and those who accumulate it gain power. It is also a place where color is openly flaunted and where the Returned are worshiped as gods.

The Returned are humans who died in an act of heroism and who come back to life immediately afterwards, to be pampered and revered by the Hallendre people. It is believed that the Returned were brought back to life for a purpose, which they had glimpsed on the Other Side, and now that they are alive again they await for the opportunity to carry this purpose out. Unfortunately, the Returned are unable to remember anything about their previous lives or what they experienced while dead, and so they live in decadent splendor as they await for their purpose to be revealed.

But the Idrians, considered rebels by the Halladrens, believe in their own god and their own religion which states that giving away Breath, which is part of one’s soul, or using it to animate is a sacrilege. In Idris color is rare and the people dress in humble grays which can not be used in the evil act of animation.

From an early age, Vivenna, princess of Idris, was trained for her role as the future bride of the God King, the most feared and powerful of the Returned. She was to serve as a sacrifice for her people in order to create an alliance between the two nations. But when the dreaded moment comes, for some indiscernible reason, the kings send his youngest daughter, Siri, instead.

Headstrong and willful Siri is bewildered by the sudden turn of events that has her traveling to the hated country of Hallandren to marry their god. Rarely having paid attention to her tutor’s lessons, Siri barely knows the first thing about politics or this new situation into which she is stepping into. But she will have to learn quickly as tensions are high, enemies are everywhere and war is beginning to seem like an imminent occurrence.

Meanwhile, the obedient and pious Vivenna, who has spent her whole life preparing to serve as queen of Halladren, suddenly finds herself with no purpose to her life. Unable to sit around insignificantly, Vivenna sets out to Idris in order to rescue her sister. But even Vivenna’s lifelong studies of politics and Halledra culture have not prepared her for the challenges she will face and the sacrifices she will find herself making in order to survive.

While Siri and Vivenna are the central character in Warbreaker, the book is also full of a wonderful assortment of secondary characters who help bring the story to life. There is Lightsong the Bold, the sardonic and irreverent Returned who does not believe in his own divinity; Llarimar, Lightsongs high priest of infinite patience; the mercenary Denith and his menacing crew, the mysterious Vasher and his sword of death, and the all-powerful God King himself. Each of these characters are so skillfully crafted and developed, that it is difficult to believe that they are merely figments of Sanderson’s imagination and not real people living among us.

The story itself is so wonderfully told, it grabs you in the beginning and doesn’t let you go until the very end, while frequently surprising you along the way. Whenever I thought I had the story and its characters figured out, I was proven wrong. Right until the very end, Sanderson keeps you guessing, not knowing who the real enemies are and who might prove to be the heroes.

There is also a nice element of humor throughout the book, balancing out the building tension. Much of the humor crops up in Lightsong’s dialogue with his high priest, who he nicknamed Scoot, and with his interaction with the other Returned.

    “Ah, very good,” Lightsong said. “I do believe that we’ve accomplished something today. I’ve fled from my responsibilities, screamed at my servants and sat about pouting. Undoubtedly, this will convince everyone that I’m even more noble and honorable then they previously assumed. Tomorrow, there will be twice as many petitions, and I shall continue my inexorable march toward utter madness.”

    “You can’t go mad,” Llarimar said softly. “It’s impossible.”

    “Sure I can,” Lightening said. “I just have to concentrate long enough. You see, the great thing about madness is that it’s all in you’re head”

While it should be quite obvious from this review that I enjoyed Warbreaker immensely, I can’t ignore the fact that there were a few things in the book that did bother me. I was surprised that the king of Idris was completely left out of the book, after his initial decision to replace Vivenna with Siri. I would have expected him to take aggressive action in order to retrieve his daughter from enemy territory, but we really don’t hear from him again. I was also surprised at how na├»ve and ineffectual Vivenna was despite her years of political training. I would have expected a bit more from her. And finally, while the ending was certainly exciting and climatic, at the same time it was a little bit weak with some of the characters making choices that were not very believable. But these were all small flaws that in no way impeded my enjoyment of the book.

I would definitely say that Brandon Sanderson has done an incredible job with Warbreaker and this book is a must-read for any fan of fantasy.

Warbreaker can be read for free on Brandon Sanderson's website.


Sanderson is easily one of my favorite authors. Glad you enjoyed Warbreaker. :3

Another author to try. Thanks for the suggestion...I didn't read the book review though, because I don't want spoilers...But definitely going to read it.

I haven't read this yet. So, I'm going to have to do it.


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