"Warbreaker" by Brandon Sanderson

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

About the Author
Brandon Sanderson is fairly new to the writing scene (his first novel, Elantris, was published in 2005); but he is already shaping up to be a prolific author. Warbreaker is his 8th published work, and was released just last month.
Despite being a virtual unknown, Brandon was chosen by Robert Jordan's widow to complete the well-loved Wheel of Time saga, and has also signed a contract with Tor for a ten-book epic fantasy series. I, for one, look forward to seeing more from him.
Brandon's most popular work is the Mistborn trilogy. You can find my initial reactions to Sanderson and Mistborn here and here.

About the Book
Warbreaker was an experiment for Brandon. He released early versions of the chapters and all subsequent rewrites online for fans to read. He wanted to show his writing process and let his readers get a glimpse of the evolution of the story. He also accepted feedback from readers of the early drafts. You can still find the drafts online through Brandon's Blog or his forum at the Time Waster's Guide.

My Review (spoiler free)

As a fan of Sanderson's Mistborn Trilogy, I expected a lot out of Warbreaker. I went into the book ready to be blown away by yet another unique system of magic, a character driven plot and some astonishing plot twists. Unfortunately, Warbreaker only delivered part of the time.

Don't get me wrong, it does have its strengths. The magic is, of course, one of the best parts of the book. Once again Sanderson gives us a glimpse of his vivid imagination, creating a world where magic is made possible by gaining extra "BioChromatic Breath". Every person is born with just one Breath, but Breaths can be given away, and are often bought and sold. While lacking the dynamic that Mistborn's Allomancy had with its Kung Fu-like action, this new power (called Awakening) is very interesting in that it has an obvious price, and the method used to gain it is questionable. The bad part is that I didn't get to see as much of the magic as I would like, and didn't get a thorough explanation of it until well past the book's halfway mark.

Warbreaker is also interesting in that it explores the idea of a living pantheon of resurected gods, called 'Returned'. The Returned are supposedly people who died in a heroic way and were sent back for a specific purpose. Unfortunately, the Returned can't remember anything of their previous lives, and don't know the reason that they were sent back.

There are four 'main' characters between which the POV shifts:
Vasher- A shady character who is first seen breaking out of prison, and who keeps you guessing as to his identity throughout the book.
Siri- The youngest daughter of the king of Idris, a rebellious and headstrong girl who enjoys being 'redundant' and having no specific duties to perform.
Vivenna - The oldest daughter of the Idrian king, who has been promised since before her birth to Susebron, the God King of the neighboring country, Hallandren. She is described by Siri as 'Perfect'.
Lightsong- One of Hallandren's Returned and, in his own words, 'Possibly the only God that doesn't believe in his own religion."

The book had a strong opening, introducing us to the enigmatic Vasher in the prologue and giving us a glimpse of the magic right away. From there we switch perspectives and meet Siri, who lives in Idris, a land that forbids the use of magic or any kind of 'ostentation', including colorful clothing. We learn that the king of Idris has decided that he can't part with his oldest daughter, Vivenna, and has decided to send Siri, unprepared and uneducated in the ways of Hallendren, to wed the God King in Vivenna's place. When Vivenna learns that Siri has been sent in her place, she journeys to the gaudy and 'ostentatious' city of T'Telir, Hallandren's capitol, to rescue her little sister... All good stuff. But then the book starts to sag.
We have some good comic relief in the form of Lightsong's self-deprecation and the mercenary humor of Denth and Tonk Fah, but very little in the way of action or incident. While everything that happens does serve to forward the plot, I feel that it does it at too slow a pace. There is also entirely too much focus on Vivenna, as far as I am concerned. She is my least favorite of the characters, and often falls a little flat in terms of personality. The last third of the book picks up the pace quite nicely again, but then the various threads seem to come together too quickly, and too neatly. The book suffers from a bit of a pacing problem.
But... I was generally satisfied with the story and, though it was originally meant to be a standalone novel, I hope that Sanderson reconsiders and lets us revisit the colorful world of Warbreaker sometime in the future. He certainly left it open to sequels...

In Summary
The Bad:
-The Prose, while competent, is a bit uninspired and lacks color.
-The word 'ostentation' is actually used eight times on one page!
-There are some pacing problems.
-The ending suffers a bit from Dues ex Machina syndrome.
-The witty banter, while generally funny, can sometimes be a bit much.

The Good:
-Nightblood. My favorite character isn't even really a character!
-The dynamic between Siri and Susebron.
-Vasher's use of Awakening is pretty cool.
-The idea of The Lifeless. You can't go wrong with zombie armies. I especially loved the Lifeless squirrel.
-There were a couple of plot twists that came out of nowhere!

My Rating
I give Warbreaker a 7.5 /10
I would recommend it to any Fantasy or Science Fiction fans, but wouldn't say that it is representative of Brandon Sanderson's best work, or even a top shelf Fantasy/Science Fiction book. Maybe second shelf. It is definitely nowhere near the caliber of Mistborn.


Sheila (bookjourney) said...

I have never read him but this sounds so interesting. I love great fantasy fiction. May have to check this one out - thanks!

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