Book: Warbreaker Review

“Absorb all colour”

warbreaker_brandonsanderson

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure, Age: Adult

Released: 29th December 2011 (UK Version)

Two sibling princesses that couldn’t be more different; both are from the small Kingdom of Idrian, and through the bounds of duty and war, they end up in the bustling city of gods. Princess Siri is the youngest, and a troublemaker. Princess Vivenna is the stern eldest, and tasked with the duty of marrying the God King.

In the capital of Hallandren, war is in the air, as hidden forces move to take back the city. A mysterious assassin moves through the streets, with a sword that must never be drawn. A whimsical and lazy god holds responsibility, for the armies of thousands of Lifeless.

Warning! Contains spoilers!

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Although Princess Vivenna has spent her entire life preparing for life in the “pagan” city of Hallandren, she is thrown off course at the last minute and unprepared Siri is sent instead. Both sisters are inexperienced in their new roles, and begin to seek out their own decisions and fulfillment.

The journey of each sister is the core plot of the book. Siri will learn to handle her nature in the battlefield of the court of gods. Vivenna meanwhile, finds her prudish behaviours being corrected in harsh ways. Both sisters are trying to help the other, and changing a political balance that they are not aware of.

The gods of Halladran are immortal and beautiful beings, that have come back from the dead. Called Returned, the core reason for their existence is that they have committed a heroic act. Although the gods live a life of luxury, they have restrictions to stay inside the palace, and which humans they can come into contact with.

The sardonic Lightsong is bored with life behind the palace walls. Although Lightsong believes he is not a threat, he is seen as immensely powerful in the politically tangled mess of Halladran. Lightsong doesn’t truly believe that he is a god at all, despite being assured that his every action is a foretelling of the future. When his visions slowly come to life, he is forced to face responsibility.

Blushweaver is another beautiful god, who sees Lightsong as both friend and enemy, and shows her affection for him in dangerously curvaceous ways. She aims to get the court to relinquish all their armies in favour of her, so that she can live past incoming disasters.

Readers will meet the assassin Vasher, who isn’t quite what his actions make him appear. He has a “rogue”-type role, that will be familiar to readers of the author’s previous works. His sword; Nightblood, is a character in it’s own right. Tantalisingly, enough hints are dropped about his and Vasher’s history, but nothing is ever clear.

Mountains, and jungles and lush seaside are a prominent feature for the scenery, but most of the story actually takes place within a bustling city. The exotic locales and sunny climates are unusual in a fantasy book, particularly since many authors choose grim, medieval-style countries (It’s a tried and tested formula).

I am normally wary of any book that uses a Mediterranean-type location. The outcome usually feels like writing crutch; like the author has relaxed tension in the book, to make the reader appreciate the different location more. A firm belief of mine is that environment alone does not build a good story, and luckily Warbreaker does not use the location as a lazy paragraph-filling role, apart from that the opening chapters are repeatedly describing the local scene to the reader.

The story is mostly character driven, with lots of interesting personalities, and some not revealing their true feelings until the very last moment. Enough minor characters exist to pad out a bustling city.

The prose lacks the solidity and heavy weight of other fantasy books. There’s a healthy pinch of comedy around the characters, and it shows, but it isn’t enough to completely push the genre fully home into comedy. Lightsong’s and Blushweaver’s banter is witty and amusing, and definitely one of the reasons to read this book. The commentary on Lightsong’s easy life and his lack of heroic ability, steals the show a few times. It’s the way him and Blushweaver both play cat and mouse, but neither can be pinned down as the cat.

Romance is aplenty too. How many times has it annoyed readers that characters pair up, sometimes for the sake of a pairing? Sanderson, however, has handled relationships with care. I felt that characters would naturally grow fond of each other, rather than being pushed and shoved towards a conclusion.

The Gods’ storyline and the humans’ storyline, doesn’t come together until towards the end of the book. Before that, it is a solitary journey which switches multiple viewpoints. The useful aspect of this is that you get to know each character personally, but the downside is that individual events seem fragmented.

The book is too rich to summarise in a review, and readers will have to follow the story for themselves to see every false turn, and conclusion. The ending is surprising, and although the main plot-points are wrapped up, it leaves the door firmly open for a sequel.

Brandon Sanderson is renowned for his use of original magic systems, and they have worked brilliantly in his other books.

In Warbreaker the magic system comprises of many parts; making it feel like shifting gears in an old, bulky vehicle. The magic user has to absorb colour from nearby object, enter their collection of BioChromatic Breath into their chosen object, and then chant an incantation. Even in the actual plot, there are few characters that can pull it off.

The magic system didn’t have the fluency, or urgency, of the Mistborn books, or the choreography of the Stormlight Archives. I felt like it should have been more refined.

Something that will hammer down on Sanderson fans will be the similarities to his first book; Elantris, which featured a very prominent female heir. With his natural “writing-cannibalism”, I believe that Sanderson refined the character of Princess Sarene, into Princess Siri. Another blaring similarity are the Elantris gods, but rather than having diseased immortals, Sanderson has “beautified” his deities for Warbreaker.

UK readers of Brandon Sanderson may be aware that his books were published out of order, compared to the American publications. Warbreaker was published long after the Mistborn series in the UK, and even after The Stormlight Archives; The Way of Kings. Naturally, having already loved the sleek writing styles of Sanderson’s other books, I had ordered a copy of Warbreaker long in advance. It turned out, when I finished it, that it was clearly written before the Mistborn series, and there were writing issues that hadn’t been completely ironed out.

This is one of those books that should have impressed me with a rich vibrant world. Whilst it manages to be entertaining, it fell short of my (admittedly high) expectations. The story is not considered to be Sanderson’s best, but it is nowhere close to being a bad story. The quality of the plot is weak only compared to the ridiculously high calibre of the Mistborn Trilogy, and the Stormlight Archives.

Rated 3.5/5 – Tangled plot with an entertaining ending.

Read the reviews for other Brandon Sanderson Sanderson books!


Alternative Covers:

The beautiful cover of the US version of Warbreaker… is confusing.

Is this Siri when she sat before the God King for the first time, with her hair white with fear, her blue eyeshadow, and blue dress?

Or is it Vivenna channeling the Breath that she holds, with the sword, Nightblood, next to her..?

Unsure, but it is more likely to be Siri.

Warbreaker_cover

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