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Brandon Sanderson – Warbreaker

June 8, 2009

67. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (2009)

Length: 592 pages

Genre: Fantasy

Started: 31 May 2009
Finished: 04 June 2009

Warbreaker will be released by Tor Books this Tuesday(!), 09 June 2009; you can order your copy from Amazon here. Many thanks to the publishers for sending me a copy to review!

Where did it come from? The wonderful Dot Lin at Tor Books.
Why do I have it? Because it’s a new fatty-fat fantasy novel from one of my favorite authors.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 28 May 2009
Verdict? Oooh, definite keeper. Is that even a question?

Breath, color, magic.
Two princesses caught in the
middle of a war.

Summary: It all starts with a breath… or with Breath, to be more specific. In the world of Warbreaker, each human being is born with a single Breath. Those who are rich enough to buy sufficient quantities of Breath can use it to sense when others approach, to see and hear with a heightened sense of awareness, and, when Breath is combined with colors drained from everyday objects, to temporarily Awaken inanimate objects.

In the tropical seaside city of Hallandren, color is everywhere, powerful Awakeners roam the streets, the city is guarded by armies of Lifeless (Awakened corpses), and the populace is ruled by the Returned – those who die nobly and are sent back to life as ageless, prophetic deities – and they, in turn, are ruled by the mysterious and powerful God King. In the neighboring kingdom of Idris, however, Hallandren is seen as harboring the worst kind of heresy – Idris’s god teaches that Breath is part of one’s soul, not something to be taken or given away. Idris and Hallandren have been hovering on the brink of war for decades, held at bay only by a treaty, in which the King of Idris must send one of the daughters of the Royal Line to wed the God King.

So, enter our main characters: There’s Vivenna, the pious eldest Idrian princess, who has been training since birth to go to Hallandren, marry Susebron the God King, and fulfill the treaty… until her father decides to send Siri, her impetuous younger sister, in her place. There’s Lightsong, the Returned god of bravery, who doesn’t believe in his own divinity. And then there’s the mysterious Vasher, whose sword is more deadly than any regular steel. Each of them is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that their country wins the coming war… a war that seems all-but-inevitable.

Review: As you can tell from my exceptionally lengthy summary, there is a *lot* going on in this book. That should come as no surprise; Sanderson has proved himself excellent at juggling multiple storylines, detailed plot threads, well-developed characters, and viewpoints. Warbreaker is no different; Sanderson shifts through the four main voices with ease, never losing momentum and never losing my attention – I stayed glued to the story from the first few pages. And as good (and complex) as his stories are, his writing is more than matches up; complex, multi-dimensional characters, vivid settings, excellently written action sequences, a good ear for dialogue, and equal facility with both pathos and humor (and sometimes both simultaneously).

Lightsong, talking to Blushweaver, another Returned:

“You’re incorrigible,” she said, finishing her stretch.
“I am what the universe made me to be, my dear.”
“You bow before the whims of the universe, then?”
“What else would I do?”
“Fight it,” Blushweaver said. She narrowed her eyes, absently reading to take one of the grapes from Lightsong’s hand. “Fight with everything, force the universe to bow to you instead.”
“That’s a charming concept, Blushweaver. But I believe that universe and I are in slightly different weight categories.”
“I think you’re wrong.”
“Are you saying I’m fat?”

Hee hee! Lightsong gets off at least one or two good lines every time he’s on stage, but this was one of my favorite, since my friends and I use “Are you calling me fat?” jokes all the time.

Another thing at which Sanderson excels is the Big Surprising Plot Twist that forces you to re-evaluate everything that had come before. At about halfway through Warbreaker, I thought I had figured out one of the pieces of the puzzle that Sanderson was hinting at (who Lightsong was before he was Returned, not that it matters). “Ha,” I thought smugly to myself, “got one on you that time, Sanderson! You’re so fond of yanking the rug out from under your readers, but I’ve got your number on this one! Who’s clever now, huh?” And, while I was busy gloating about that, Sanderson went and yanked out two more rugs that I didn’t even know I was standing on. (Plus, it turns out I was wrong about Lightsong’s past, to boot. Hrmph.) It’s so great when an author can pull off a surprising twist that you never saw coming but is so obvious in retrospect, and completely changes the direction of the story.

While the story was engaging and the characters were excellent, I didn’t love Warbreaker quite as much as I did Mistborn. I am a sucker for an original and well-thought out system of magic, and Sanderson’s got the best I’ve ever seen. The scheme of using Breath and colors to do magic, while cool, just wasn’t as meticulously logical as the allomantic metal-based magic of Mistborn, and there were some elements that weren’t ever explained to my satisfaction. Still, that’s pretty minor, and even though it’s a chunkster (almost 600 pages), I never felt it dragging, and as much as I wanted to read faster to know what happened, I was reluctant to get to the end and have to leave his world. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you like fantasy novels but haven’t read any of Sanderson’s books, Warbreaker would definitely be an excellent place to start, especially if you’re not yet willing to commit to a trilogy. If you’ve already read Sanderson’s other books, then you probably don’t need me to tell you that this one is also great, and that you should hurry out and read it. :)

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Brandon Sanderson’s website and blog, which includes a much better summary of the book than I was able to write. You can also download the entire ebook for free – Sanderson began posting drafts of the book as he was writing, but for those of us who a) prefer the feel of real books, and b) want to support our favorite writers, it’s being published in hardcover form as well.
Brandon Sanderson’s LibraryThing catalog

Other Reviews: Grasping for the Wind
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: It’s funny, Vasher thought, how many things begin with my getting thrown into prison.

Cover: I remember waaaaay back in the day when Brandon was asking for opinions on this cover in the Green Dragon forum at LibraryThing. I thought it was gorgeous then (and now), but it makes a lot more sense for having read the book…. although I can’t for the life of me figure out which princess it’s supposed to be. I’d say it’s Vivenna, since Siri doesn’t really have much to do with Breath (other than the one she was born with, I guess) or swords, but I also don’t think Vivenna would be caught dead in that dress. Thoughts?

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 341: ““At nights my fondest desire is to sit and compose interminably periphrastic lectures on morality for my priests to read to my followers.”” – circumlocutory; roundabout.

**All quotes are from an advance review copy and may not reflect the final published text.**

13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2009 8:40 am

    Thanks for the linkage, good review.

  2. John permalink
    June 8, 2009 9:07 am

    Is the Avalanche (TM) in effect, here?

  3. June 8, 2009 9:51 am

    I’m buying this one when I go home. Can’t wait! Thanks for the review.

  4. June 8, 2009 10:39 am

    John – Sort of? On the one hand, I thought it got moving pretty quickly and was absorbing all the way through. But, on the other hand, I read the first 350 pages in smaller chunks, and the last 250 pages in a single afternoon, so.

    Meghan – Oh no! It’s not published in the UK yet, is it? How long are you going to have to wait?

  5. June 8, 2009 9:39 pm

    This looks good. I will have to keep it in mind!

  6. June 10, 2009 2:41 pm

    What a fantastic review. I haven’t read Sanderson before, but now I’m really itching to do so. I may try Mistborn first, actually. And I love that first line!

  7. June 10, 2009 2:41 pm

    Oops – that was me, from Ms. Bookish. This is what happens when one has two blogs instead of one …!

  8. June 11, 2009 3:22 pm

    Kailana and Belle – Be sure to check out the giveaway that I posted today to win your own copy of Warbreaker!

  9. June 12, 2009 12:20 am

    Nice review! I hope to write one myself, but probably won’t be able to get to it for a long time.

    About the cover, the artist (Dan Dos Santos) has revealed that “The girl on the cover is Siri, in her silver and blue wedding gown.
    Her hair is white to signify her anxiety before the wedding.” If the following link works, you can find some other comments from him, along with a sketch of an alternate cover featuring Vasher:;u=1431;sa=showPosts

    I’d be curious to know your theory about Lightsong’s past. I tried to figure that out, but couldn’t come up with anything.

  10. June 12, 2009 9:10 am

    David – I think it was the sword more than anything that was throwing me off – knowing that it’s not supposed to be Nightsong means that I definitely buy the girl is Siri. I also found this long-ago thread on LT where Brandon was asking for input on the cover – including a couple of early sketches: I’d actually forgotten all about it until I saw the Warbreaker cover and was like “Oh, hey, that looks familiar…”

  11. October 20, 2009 9:11 am

    I just read Warbreaker and this is a really excellent review that you wrote. Though I definitely think that Warbreaker is Sanderson’s best work. His character development here is much better then in any if his previous books.

  12. October 13, 2010 6:54 am

    Good review, and that excerpt is really spot on.

    I would agree that Mistborn is better, and what is fanastic is – The Way of Kings is incredible. Just finished it, and wanted to make sure I re-read Warbreaker to compare. Brandon just gets goes to new heights with each book.


  1. Great reviews and online buzz for Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker « Tor/Forge’s Blog

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