lthough there is a sufficient number of titles to grant “fantasy” a section separate from science fiction in most bookstores, they are still grouped together. The irony is, in most cases, a fantasy novel has to incorporate many features of science fiction to create a new world or environment.
Whether it be a new flora, fauna, world, technology or form of magic, it is common to reuse one or more of these devices from other authors, but put it together in a, supposedly, “unique” way. Sometimes this succeeds; sometimes the author’s work is merely a derivative of either Tolkien or Asimov.
In Warbreaker, Sanderson succeeds. The primary form of magic comes from the ability to gain “Breaths” (the most common corollary in our mythology that comes to mind is “soul”) and then put them to use. This proceeds to pour the foundation for the entire story and world.
It is the basis of two religions within two kingdoms at odds with each other and in danger of going to war. The disagreement is based partly on the morality of using these Breaths (souls of other individuals, dead or alive) for any purpose.
The second issue creating tension is the worship of the Returned, men or women who come back from the dead (granted due to a great deed they performed in their previous life), are treated as gods and must make use of Breaths to stay alive (I know, kinda ironic, but what else do you have when there is a physical presence considered a god and it can be killed?).
This story pushes against the boundaries of what we human-beings would consider as “gods”, and, thus, a new world is born in the hands of Sanderson.
The impetus for the events in Warbreaker is that a treaty is forcing the daughter of the king of Idris, Vivenna, (whose nation separated from Hallandren in opposition to worship of Returned and use of Breath) to prepare her entire life to marry the God-King of Hallandren (where the gods live in seclusion from the world at its capital, T’Telis, and only interact with their own priest/guardians and the worshipful petitioners).
Events conspire to send Siri, the youngest sister of Vivenna, in her place. This creates sufficient confusion in both kingdoms and causes factions on both sides to question the motives of the king’s decision.
Brandon Sanderson intertwines the storylines of three primary characters: Siri, Vivenna, and Lightsong, one of the gods of Hallandren, who is consistently the most lazy of the gods, at least until Siri arrives to fulfill the treaty of Idris. The most significant factor in all of this is Breath, which manages to grant the bearer the ability to see perfect tones and colors, hear perfect notes and sounds, and produce an aura of brighter color wherever they travel.
Most importantly, it grants the ability to be an Awakener, an individual who uses the Breath to bring to life something that was, at one point in time alive, but is now dead, such as cloth (cotton), sticks (living trees), and human bodies (who are now dead, but are turned into a “Lifeless“), all of which perform duties based on Commands.
What I loved the most about this book was not the imagery and magical world, but the verbal interaction between characters. Sanderson has a true talent in bringing alive discussions in a way that makes it seem so real.
I honestly laughed out loud at the following quote from Lightsong who conjured up a mental image he’d rather forget: “Make a note to have my imagination flogged for its insolence in showing me that particular sight.”
This truly made me realize that Sanderson could expand on this world, already quite full of beautiful landscapes and imaginative magic, by providing lifelike, funny, heartwarming, characters to dwell within.
Overall, it is a vibrant story with a very rich other-worldly feel without duplicating a bunch of common tropes in fantasy. As I read Warbreaker, I yearned for it to be made into a movie where it would be quite the visual treat.
However, as I, personally, am a stickler for spelling/grammar, I was disappointed at how many mistakes made it into the final version, but this did not detract from the story (some I’ve read in the past such as the later titles in the Wheel of Time series where the editors seem to get lazy could be rather frustrating). Brandon, find better proofreaders.
On the subject of the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and his recent demise, Brandon Sanderson is an excellent choice for completing Jordan’s work and he has an eye for detail and originality that should be a real treat when we see his first entry, The Gathering Storm, hit the bookshelves in November.
I look forward to more of Sanderson’s works as it appears that we’ve not seen the last of the world introduced in Warbreaker.
Order your copy of Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson today.