Siri and Vivenna, princesses of Idris, have lived in wary fear of nearby kingdom Hallandren for their entire lives. Their line originally ruled in Hallandren and now mainly exist on the larger kingdom’s sufference. Vivenna has been betrothed to the God-king of Hallandren, Susebron, since birth in an attempt to stave off war. At the last second, the princesses’ father sends Siri, his younger daughter, instead, knowing that war is coming and making the difficult decision of saving his elder daughter over his younger. Siri has been raised in a relatively colorless world and is shocked – and intrigued – by vivid Hallandren, with its strong use of magic, and her life as queen, or “Vessel”, as her sole duty is to bear an heir to the throne. Her sister Vivenna goes after her, determined to save her, but finds herself wrapped up in intrigue after intrigue instead, particularly with a mysterious swordsman whose seems to stalk her every step.
Warbreaker was the first of my list of books I must get read in 2010, and as I expect with pretty much all of them, I found myself wondering why I hadn’t started it sooner. It is long, but it’s a satisfying lengthy read, with excellent world-building and magic systems. This is precisely what I’ve come to expect from Sanderson; he creates fantasy that is out of the ordinary, not just a rehash of the apprentice’s quest with elves and wizards. While breaking out of the mold, he manages to retain a certain sense of wonder in his characters, a certain ability that makes it easy for us to relate to them even though their worlds are completely foreign. It’s never hard to slip into his books; there is no adjustment period, even when the world is completely new. Enough is always still familiar.
In this novel, magic is invested in objects through Breath. Each person is born with a single Breath. They can acquire more from others and, once they have enough, can bring certain things to life with commands or simply store their Breaths in inanimate objects. Gods in Hallendren are those who are mystically revived after death with a special kind of Breath. They need one each week to survive; those who give their sole breath to a God are rewarded though their lives are guaranteed to be drab afterwards. This sort of magic is blasphemous to the Idrians.
Sanderson doesn’t shy away from the tough questions in his books – another thing I really enjoy about him. In this particular book there is a God who just isn’t certain about his Godhood. He doesn’t feel special. He doesn’t think he acts special. In fact, he’s not sure any of his fellow Gods are actually anything but fortunate schemers, except of course for Susebron, who is so godlike that no one is even allowed to speak of him. He asks difficult questions of himself throughout the narrative and, I think, winds up proving himself in ways that we could learn from in our own world.
There was something about this book, though, that didn’t quite match up to Elantris or the Mistborn trilogy for me. Strange as it is, I think that in the end it just didn’t feel epic. I can’t really put a value on it, but it’s that certain extra that makes me fall truly in love with a fantasy novel, where it really, genuinely feels that the world is at stake and the characters are truly desperate. The plot, of course, does actually ramp up quite a bit towards the end, but it just failed to give me that breathless, must-read-more feeling. It was enjoyable and I had a great time reading it, but it remains in the “like” camp rather than the “love” camp.
Regardless, Warbreaker is a well-written fantasy novel with an intriguing, well-developed world. If you enjoy fantasy, Sanderson is an author you should definitely be reading. Now that I’ve finished off this one, I can go purchase The Way of Kings – and I don’t intend for this one to sit on the shelf for a year and a half.
I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.