One of Brandon Sanderson’s few standalones (for now), Warbreaker very much holds up on re-read. It takes place on a planet whose Investiture (sorry, Cosmere term) means that every person born has one Breath. The existence of Breaths has become a mostly spiritual issue, and one also about power. Breaths can be sold or given away, and the more Breaths one person holds, the more power they have. People with more Breath experience the world with heightened senses, and have the power to Awaken inanimate objects by transferring their Breath. There are also beings called Returned, who some believe are Gods. These are people who die and return to life with no memory, but who have the powers of someone with thousands and thousands of Breaths. Social and political infrastructure has grown around the existence of these Gods.
The book follows three narrators: Vivenna (the eldest princess of Idris, who has prepared her whole life to marry the God King of neighboring enemy country Hallandren as part of a treaty), Siri (Vivenna’s sister, who is sent in her place to marry the God King), and Lightsong (a Returned who is unsure of his place in the world, and is skeptical of the entire system he is a part of).
This time around, I was less focused on trying to figure out the mechanics of the plot and the worldbuilding, so I was really able to appreciate how solid Sanderson builds our three narrator’s arcs. Siri’s arc is one of personal growth, finding skills and strengths in herself that she had never had cause to use because no one ever expected anything of her. Vivenna’s arc is the most emotionally brutal. Sanderson has to break her down pretty far for her to complete her arc. At the beginning of the story, she’s one of those people who are righteously secure in their own beliefs, but only because they are ignorant of the reality of other people’s experiences. And Lightsong’s arc made me tear up this time. He spends the whole book playing the fool, only to experience SPOILERS the most pure moment of sacrifice END SPOILERS. The way that Sanderson structures and builds up to that scene makes it so moving.
This doesn’t get five stars, because there were parts where I wished it would move on to things I was more interested in (I always wanted more of Siri and Susebron, the God King’s, interactions). This book is a really good example of how Sanderson treats all his fantasy stories, focusing on the character arc as the most important thing above all, and simultaneously subverting fantasy tropes, but still indulging in what makes reading fantasy books so pleasurable. It would be an excellent Gateway into his work.
CBR Bingo: Gateway (BINGO! Only #2 for me)