Monday, December 5, 2011


Summary: Sanderson's Warbreaker manages to give a complex, epic feel to a fantasy story with a relatively modest scale.  He has a deft hand with plot twists and and character development and a wildly imaginative magic/religion system.  It's like he channeled the sweet love child of Martin's Song of Ice and Fire and Bujold's Curse of Chalion while high.  I recommend it for fantasy fans.  If you don't like epics then you might be turned off by the somewhat uneven and slower pace of the book's middle, but the last third of the book redeems it.  

Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson, is...uhm...interesting.  And good.

AND Sanderson has a free pdf download of Warbreaker available on his web site.  Score!

OK, so here's the basics.  Although a few characters start off in a nearby kingdom, the story is pretty much entirely set in the capital city of Hallandren.  There are three main POV characters and story arcs, Vivenna, Siri, and Lightsong.

Vivenna is a virtuous and hardworking princess from a nearby kingdom.  She has been groomed her whole life by her puritanical society to be sacrificed in marriage to the (presumed evil) God-King of Hallandren.

Siri is her lighthearted and impulsive youngest sister who hasn't been groomed for anything, but she finds herself on a bit of a coming of age arc when she unexpectedly finds herself substituted for Vivenna as the bride of the God-King.  Vivenna, suddenly without purpose in her life, ends up on a very different arc that slowly strips away the layers of her personality.  She goes through a lot of character growth, but I found I didn't like her much on and off throughout the book.

The third main POV, Lightsong, is one of the "Returned" of Hallodren, and here's your first intro to the freaky creativity of Sanderson's magic system.  The Returned are a group of people which spontaneously come back from the dead as a physically enhanced version of themselves with amnesia.  They also require the BioChroma (some people believe a person's BioChroma is their soul) from one person each week.  Apparently, this spontaneous-undead thing just happens sometimes, and every belief system in that world has a different take on what it all means.  There are a lot of other aspects to the magical/religious system Sanderson has put together that I'm not mentioning; it's all very complex.  In any case, in Halladren, Returned are sequestered and worshipped as gods.  The only problem for Lightsong is that he's pretty sure he's not really a god.  His arc ends up mostly like a witty banter-filled mystery with and some interesting navel gazing between him and his patiently devoted high priest.

There's also some minor POV from Vasher, who's a mysterious shady character doing mysterious shady things, and a bit from King Dedelin, the princesses' father.

The multiple POV thing is never my favorite, but it worked well enough in the beginning and the end of the book.  The problem for me was that in the middle, the arcs were so very different emotionally that every time it switched, I felt like I could put the book down and read a completely different story in between. In fact, I did exactly that, finishing a two other novels in breaks in Warbreaker.

Another problem with the middle is that it felt like all three of the stories were just side stories to the really important plot, except that neither I nor any of the characters could figure out what the main plot was or who was doing the plotting.  I think it had to do with the multiple POV-ness that I usually link to epics and espionage stories, but in a plot that had little action and was a small scale.  I kept thinking that there must be real action going on somewhere, but if it's not any of my character doing it, then that means that somewhere else are actually important characters doing the more important things.  But, like I said, the last third of the book totally redeemed the weaker middle.  It was cohesive, action-packed, and felt great.

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